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If only a snowstorm was the largest problem dogging this week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Bridgestone Arena.
When news broke Friday afternoon that 16-year-old Alysa Liu had tested positive for COVID-19 and withdrawn after skating – and placing third – in Thursday night’s short program, it was an exceptionally unwelcome and upsetting development for the event and those running it.
It meant the favorites in both the pairs and women's singles competitions had to withdraw because of COVID, with Liu joining Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier. All of the above still can — and probably will — be named to next month's U.S. Olympic Team in Beijing.
But no matter who ends up winning their events at nationals this week, the indelible memory will be that COVID was victorious in Nashville in 2022.
That’s a shame.
Was it a preventable one? Do you ever really know?
Scrutiny should fall on U.S. Figure Skating for enforcing strict policies at the arena – attending media had to test negative for COVID ahead of time – while somehow remaining unconcerned about the fact that skaters were staying at a Nashville hotel where no precautions were being taken.
In a recent article, USA TODAY’s Christine Brennan described the crowded, maskless scenes at the downtown Renaissance, the event's official hotel.
By now, most of us would rather not care. I get that. Even those vaccinated and boosted and vigilant against the virus for so long can be expected to lose determination after nearly two years of fighting this thing. I’ve seen it in well-meaning friends and family and many others – including myself. I’ve lost tolerance for blaming and shaming.
Observations about a crowded hotel without masks might seem alarmist.
But then one of the nation’s best female figure skaters – a teenager – tests positive in the middle of the country’s biggest competition. Nashville's competition.
Liu’s illness probably won’t be serious, but it still could be.
As a reminder of why, 26-year-old skater Ashley Cain-Gribble sat Thursday at a press conference alongside partner Timothy LeDuc – the duo leads this week’s pairs competition – and described having COVID-19 in August. She struggled to breathe after recovering and later learned that she had developed asthma from the virus. Each day, she now has to take a steroid and use an inhaler.
“Everybody’s journey with COVID is very different,” Cain-Gribble said. “It affects everybody very different. … I thought I wouldn’t have any effects from it, because I’m healthy and I’m young and I thought I’d be able to recover quickly. That wasn’t quite the case for me.”
Hours later, Liu sat at the same stage as one of the top three skaters after the first stage of the women’s singles competition. Instinctively, you play it over in your head. How close was she sitting to the other two skaters, Mariah Bell and Karen Chen? Were they wearing masks? (They were.)
Liu was the first of two women's singles competitors – Amber Glenn became the other – to withdraw Friday after testing positive for COVID-19.
All of this stinks like it did in March 2020. It’s still disrupting our lives, not just our sports. You’d like to think Nashville could enjoy a nice treat like a big-time figure skating event without having to go through the COVID wringer. Sadly, that’s not where we are with this disease, here or elsewhere.
I’ve written this before and surely will again: In my two decades as a sportswriter, I’ve never been more tired of writing about any topic than I am COVID-19.
But that, I've learned, hasn’t made it go away.
Reach Gentry Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: As U.S. Figure Skating fails to fend off COVID-19, who isn't sick of this?