Everyone has had it with COVID-19 news, restrictions and vaccination status wars. Search Assets
But American Olympians have no option but to continue to deal with this pandemic. That will require personal decisions over discipline and sacrifice from now until their flights to Beijing in less than a month. Visit nana? Get a hair cut? Get that tooth checked out from the dentist?
Anything and everything is a risk. If they test positive for coronavirus, they could be down a river without a paddle.
The U.S. Speedskaters endured this lesson – and warning – firsthand here in Milwaukee at the U.S. Olympic long-track speedskating trials. The skaters raced at the winner-take-all trials at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee as Wisconsin experienced record-setting numbers of hospitalizations and positive cases.
There’s one job now: keep getting that single strip, negative test result until the Olympics begin Feb. 4.
“It's a very unfortunate circumstances that we're playing Russian roulette with contracting COVID at this point,” said speedskater Brittany Bowe, who will compete in her third Olympics. “But all I can do is control myself.
“Mask up – maybe a double layer on the airplane home – and then just be in my little bubble back in Salt Lake, just going from my house to the rink and, with a little bit of luck, a lot, a lot of prayers and hopefully Team USA can all get to Beijing healthy.”
U.S. Olympians can not think about COVID-19 as opinionated, demanding, camera-recording Americans. There’s no protesting and appealing or litigating and lawyering.
From the Washington Post: All participants will be inside a “closed loop,” with tighter restrictions than those seen at the Tokyo Summer Olympics. The loop, which physically separates Olympics-related attendees from the local population, will have dedicated transport and be closely monitored. Athletes who violate the rules can be disqualified from competing.
"I've been pretty diligent all along," said Ian Quinn, who qualified for his first Olympics on Sunday. "I'll probably start doing like takeout grocery if I can, or just go into the store at low points in the day where there's not a lot of people. Probably going to do a lot of takeout; definitely not going into restaurants. It will be pretty much going to the rink and going back home. It stinks for about two weeks, but it's worth it if you get to go to the Games."
Additionally, the athletes’ Olympic playbook, distributed by Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) says athletes must:
• Take temperature daily and track it 14 days before departure for China.
• Must be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before travelling to China or have sent in request for medical exemption.
• Should keeping physical interactions to a strict minimum during the 14 days before travel to China.
There are also tests required within at least 96 and 73 hours before departure, although it might be good to take a third test in case there are any travel issues that change the travel itinerary.
If they get sick in China, they’ll be pulled from the Games and isolated.
After the U.S. Speedskating team experienced five positive cases – keeping three athletes from competing – executive director Ted Morris and the USS board of directors made the call to keep fans and media out of the Pettit trials. It became an eye opener for the entire U.S. team, said Matt Kooreman, Long Track Program Director.
The spike of the fourth coronavirus wave, this time the Omicron variant, has forced the team to tighten down. The unknowns about entering China – a communist country – are everywhere. How accurate and trustworthy are the daily tests? The USS will also probably bring their own tests.
“We're super nervous about that. Who's going to be monitoring those tests?,” said Kooreman. “And yes, it's a different culture where you can't just, refuse, you know? Like, you can accept their standards or you can take a hike.”
While China says it is working to ensure the safety of the athletes with all their tight lifestyle restrictions, what happens if one of the speedskaters gets COVID-19 between now and the Games? It could affect not only who can make the flight over, but who can race.
“That's a very scary part for us, too,” said Kooreman. “We are working through different scenarios, and obviously you have to work with the Chinese, too, if maybe access to the games is delayed, so that we can pass all their mandates. So yeah, we're working on several different contingency plans, if something pops up for each individual athlete.”
“It was a bad move that we skated here and had this event. I think it was an unnecessary risk,” said Joey Mantia. “Our (COVID-positive) numbers are going down in our population, which is great news. I'm really happy about that.
“So we're doing the best we can given the situation and hopefully we make it out of this and back home and on to the Games without any issues.”
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Nickel: Olympians must take extra caution to make Beijing Games