His race was dramatic, but it’s what he said afterward that’s making headlines. And potentially puts him in the Kremlin’s crosshairs.
American runner Nick Symmonds competed in the 800-meter final and placed second at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow. He dedicated his silver medal to his gay and lesbian friends, becoming the first athlete to criticize Russia’s new anti-gay law while on Russian soil.
“I’ve been very vocal throughout my entire career on any injustice I see, whether it’s from athletes’ rights to market themselves to gay rights,” said Symmonds. “Whether you’re black or white, gay or straight, everybody deserves to be treated equally.”
Russia’s law, passed in June, bans “propaganda” of “non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors. While the law is ambiguously written, many fear it will be used to persecute homosexuals and their supporters. In practice, it could outlaw even speaking about homosexuality around children or wearing gay pride symbols in public. Violators face steep fines and jail time. Foreigners face similar penalties plus deportation.
Symmonds has long been a vocal supporter of gay rights. He said he would like to wear a rainbow flag pin during competitions to show his support for gay rights in Russia and around the world, but quickly added, “They've made it very clear that will land you in jail.”
“I'm trying to tread that fine line of being respectful as a guest in this country and also speaking against some serious injustices that I see,” he said. “As adamant as I am about this issue, I don't know what me sitting in jail is good for.”
Earlier this month, Symmonds was criticized by some gay rights supporters for writing on his blog that he would not criticize the law during the world championships.
“The playing field is not a place for politics,” he wrote on Runner's World on Aug. 6.
His comments came amid a growing concern that foreign athletes and fans attending international sporting events in Russia, including next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, could be prosecuted under the law.
The law has sparked outrage overseas, including calls to boycott Russian products like vodka. Others have even called for a boycott of the Sochi games themselves.
The International Olympic Committee said it has received assurances from top Russian officials that athletes and fans are safe from the law, but Russian officials have sent mixed signals. On Monday, Russia's Interior Ministry said the law would remain in effect during the games.
The head of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, said last Friday that the IOC was now seeking “clarification” from Russia about how the law would be applied to Olympic guests. The IOC, meanwhile, has reportedly made clear that athletes are prohibited from publicly advocating political positions during the games and could be penalized if they do.
ABC News' Mary-Rose Abraham and Arthur Niemynski contributed to this episode.