Angelina Melnikova is one of Russia's biggest gymnastics stars
Performing under a neutral flag provides just as much motivation to serve your country, according to Russian Olympic champion Angelina Melnikova. The Tokyo 2020 gold medalist added that regardless of a lack of national symbols, it was evident that everyone would know she is performing for Russia.
Melnikova, 22, was among Russia's standout stars at the Tokyo Olympics last year, leaving the Japanese capital with three medals in total.
That included gold in the team event, where Russia ended the longtime dominance of the USA, and individual bronze medals for Melnikova in the all-around and floor events.
In Tokyo, Melnikova and her compatriots were competing under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) rather than that of Russia due to the lingering punishment imposed against the country because of doping allegations.
The same was the case for Russia's Winter Olympians at the 2022 Beijing Games, although athletes from Russia have since been hit with blanket bans because of the conflict in Ukraine.
According to Melnikova, if faced with the choice of competing under neutral status or not competing at all, it is evident which would be preferable.
"We've already competed under a neutral flag. If we're told: either you perform under a neutral flag, or you don't participate at all, then why not prove yourself under a neutral flag, especially since everyone will know that I'm from Russia?" Melnikova told Championat.
"The performance of the Russians under a neutral flag is a sensationalized story, because they already knew that we were from Russia. Performing under a neutral flag is an even greater reason to defend your country," added the gymnastics star.
Melnikova's Tokyo haul added to the silver medal she won with the Russian team in Rio de Janeiro four years previously.
The Voronezh star also has a 2021 all-around world title to her name, plus a host of other medals at world and European level.
But as with her compatriots, Melnikova is currently barred from global events after international gymnastics federation the FIG issued a blanket suspension on Russian and Belarusian competitors in the wake of Moscow's military campaign in Ukraine.
That has led to an uncertain future for Russian sports star, not least after honorary IOC member Craig Reedie recently claimed that athletes could miss the Paris 2024 Olympics because they would not be cleared for qualifying events ahead of the Games.
However, figures in Russia have cautioned that it is premature to make such comments.
The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) said last month that it was preparing fully for the Paris Games and was working to protect the interests of its athletes.
READ MORE: Russia reacts after former WADA investigator questions current bans