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Russian Runners Deny Podium Kiss Was Protest

Grant Faint / Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- A pair of champion Russian runners are denying that their kiss atop the podium last weekend was a silent protest of their country’s new anti-gay law.

Ksenia Ryzhova and Yulia Guschina kissed each other on the lips as they celebrated winning gold in the women’s 4x400m relay at the World Athletics Championships, which were held in Moscow. The public display garnered headlines around the world.

“Yesterday I got calls from probably 20 different media outlets and instead of congratulating us for the gold medal, they decided to insult me and Yulia and the entire federation,” Ryzhova said, according to RIA Novosti.

She stressed that the teammates have “no personal relationship” and that the suggestion their kiss was amorous was a “sick fantasy.”

“We’ve trained for eight years in the same group and there’s a really good friendship between us,” she explained during a press conference.

Ryzhova first denied the act was a protest in an interview with the Guardian, published Monday night.

The kiss came amid increasing pressure on athletes and public figures to take a stand on the law, which prohibits what it calls propaganda of “non-traditional sexual relationships” around minors. Critics say it legitimizes the harassment of homosexuals and criminalizes promoting gay rights. Violators face fines and jail. Foreigners face similar penalties plus deportation. Some are calling on athletes to stage silent protests during sporting competitions in Russia to show their solidarity.

The law has sparked calls for a boycott of Russian products, including vodka. Some are even calling for a boycott of next year’s Winter Olympics, which Russia will host in Sochi. Meanwhile, other prominent gay individuals have canceled plans to appear in Russia.

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