Olympians Face a Daunting Final Qualifying Event: Staying Healthy

For athletes going to Beijing, years of sacrifice might go to waste in the event that they get the coronavirus now. To keep away from it, they’re hunkering down, shunning associates and skipping competitions.

They’ve come too far, for a lot too lengthy, to mess all of it up now.

And so the eight members of the Canadian males’s curling group are spending the three weeks earlier than the Winter Olympics sequestered in a rental dwelling in Vancouver. They prepare solely when the rink close by is empty and in any other case move the time capturing pool, sitting in a sizzling tub and excited about their households again dwelling.

“It’s like a frat house without the booze,” mentioned Marc Kennedy, a 2010 gold medalist and an alternate on this yr’s group, who’s coping with the frustration of lacking one in every of his daughters’ dance recitals. “Everybody here has pretty wonderful spouses.”

As 1000’s of Olympians worldwide collectively hurtle by way of the ultimate weeks of preparation for the 2022 Games in Beijing, they’re integrating a new train into their every day regimens:

Sidestepping Covid-19, by no matter means needed.

With the Feb. four opening ceremony of their sights, athletes are slicing off contact with family members, altering the very methods they prepare and, in lots of instances, ceasing all actions outdoors the realms of competitors. The activity has felt more and more herculean amid a world surge in coronavirus instances infected by the extremely contagious Omicron variant.

The emotional toll of all this, of dwelling in concern of getting sick, of totally disrupting their lives to keep away from it, has been as taxing as their hardest exercises. But the choice — contracting the coronavirus, being compelled to take a seat out the Games and, in impact, erasing years of preparation and anticipation for this singular second of their careers — is just too devastating to ponder.

“Everyone is testing positive right now, and that freaks me out,” mentioned Emily Sweeney, 28, a luger from Portland, Maine. “I keep thinking of all the crappy situations I got through to get to this point, and it just feels like such a big risk just to be existing in this world right now.”

Avoiding Covid-19 had after all been a purpose for athletes from the beginning of the pandemic; getting sick is at odds for individuals whose livelihoods depend upon their bodily well-being.

But at this level the considerations of Olympians — younger, match and vaccinated, as a entire — are much less concerning the sickness or any signs and extra concerning the testing routine. Athletes touring to the Games should produce two destructive leads to the times earlier than they fly to Beijing, and everybody on the bottom there can be screened every day.

Positive exams might maintain athletes from boarding their flights to Beijing or power them into an isolation interval of indefinite size as soon as there, rendering all their arduous work, all their struggling and sacrifice, basically meaningless. It isn’t any shock, then, that some Olympians have been tormented by emotions of helplessness, a sense that at any level their desires might be dashed earlier than they even start.

“We are playing Russian roulette every single day,” mentioned Brittany Bowe, an American speedskater. “You can take all the precautions, wash your hands, wear a mask, and somehow you can still get Covid. In my opinion it is luck of the draw at this point.”

Anxious concerning the unknown, athletes have taken destiny into their very own fingers. They have shrunk their lives into streams of socially distanced coaching classes and an never-ending blur of deep nasal swabs.

The snowboarder Maddie Mastro estimated that she had not seen her household or associates, in addition to her boyfriend, since November. Like different athletes interviewed for this text, Mastro mentioned she way back stopped eating out and had been carrying a masks always each time she was away from dwelling.

Nathan Chen, the highest males’s determine skater within the United States, has been often noticed carrying masks throughout full-speed observe classes on the ice earlier than these Games.

The Australian determine skater Kailani Craine, nervous about pulling her masks down for even a second, has been reluctant to eat even on prolonged flights this season, lest she make herself the slightest bit extra weak to an infection, in line with her coach, Tiffany Chin.

Maame Biney, an American short-track skater, had deliberate to exit and rejoice along with her household and shut associates after securing her place on the group — earlier than pondering higher of it on the final minute.

“I was like, ‘No wait, if I get Covid, then I’m not going, and that’s not fair to me or my teammates to risk that,’” she mentioned. “And so I told them, ‘Hey guys, I just need to stay super safe, and I can’t go outside, so we can have a FaceTime celebration.”

Her teammate, Kristen Santos, on high of double-masking always, has put her fiancé “on lockdown” this month, limiting his actions to attenuate her danger of contracting a case.

“He went for groceries at 10 p.m. the other day,” Santos mentioned.

In Europe, members of the American biathlon group have been working in “roommate pods” whereas bouncing from coaching camps to occasions: Their roommates are the one individuals they’ll eat with or usually be round with out a masks.

“It’s certainly shaping every aspect of our day-to-day lives, because it would be a major, major bummer to miss out on four years — a lifetime really — of hard work for a careless moment,” mentioned Susan Dunklee, a biathlete heading to her third consecutive Olympics, who has been craving issues so simple as going out for espresso on a day without work. “Sometimes you do go crazy in your hotel room.”

Covid anxieties have even reshaped the way in which groups prepare.

For occasion, the 4 males competing within the group pursuit occasion for the U.S. speedskating group, the present world-record holders, are limiting the period of time they really observe collectively — the occasion requires skaters to return into bodily contact — to cut back the danger of getting the virus.

Similarly, Joel Johnson, the coach of the American girls’s ice hockey group, mentioned he was struggling to strike a stability between taking precautions and arranging ample coaching time for his gamers. For now, producing destructive exams was occupying extra mind house than planning for the Games.

“Covid worries us more than anything,” mentioned Johnson, who has been holding group conferences just about. “We’re not worried about any opponent, whether it’s Canada or Finland or Russia or Switzerland or anybody. Right now, we’re worried about how do we get there and how do we get there prepared to play?”

The dangers of athletes congregating in a single place turned clear this month on the U.S. figure skating championships, the place eight individuals — three particular person skaters, one pairs group, one ice dance group and one coach — withdrew from the occasion after testing constructive for Covid.

In different sports activities, athletes are skipping competitions that may usually function closing gown rehearsals for the Olympics. An unusually excessive variety of high athletes — a group that included the American snowboarders Shaun White and Chloe Kim and the Chinese skier Eileen Gu — elected to skip the X Games this weekend in Aspen, Colo.

“That was a calculation a lot of people had to make,” mentioned Gus Kenworthy, a British freestyle skier and two-time Olympic medalist who’s attending the X Games. He was worn out for a number of days after contracting the coronavirus in October.

The impact of all this — isolating earlier than getting into additional isolation in Beijing — has positioned a heavy psychological burden on athletes.

Jessica Bartley, director of psychological well being providers for Team USA, mentioned she and her colleagues had heard from numerous Olympians scuffling with the uncertainty of the second. Bartley and her group have doled out steering, and tangible steps huge and small, to assist put the Olympians’ minds comfortable.

“I think it feels like it’s a little more in your control if you have these things to do,” she mentioned.

And so athletes are mustering up their final bits of self-discipline and willpower to navigate these closing, perilous days earlier than the Olympics. There is one final kick within the race to the Games, and nobody desires to stumble now.

“Now is not the time to loosen up on that stuff,” Mastro mentioned. “Now’s the time to tighten up on it.”

Jonathan Abrams, John Branch, Scott Cacciola, Alan Blinder and Kevin Draper contributed reporting.

Top pictures by Daniel Kopatsch/Getty Images (Sweeney); Jurij Kodrun/Getty Images (Dunklee); Rick Bowmer/Associated Press (Bowe).

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