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No consideration of postponing Olympics, IOC medical chief says

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LONDON (AP) — Seeking to allay fears over the Zika outbreak, the IOC medical director said “everything that can be done is being done” to combat the virus in Brazil and provide safe conditions for athletes at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Dr. Richard Budgett said there are no health warnings against traveling to Brazil, except for pregnant women, and stressed that no consideration has been given to postponing or canceling the games.

“Our priority is to protect the health of the athletes,’ Budgett said on Thursday. “The IOC absolutely is not complacent. We do take this very seriously. … Everything is being done to contain and reduce this problem in the lead-up to the games.”

Brazil is the epicenter of the Zika outbreak, raising concerns about the potential risks of infection during the Aug. 5-21 Olympics. The World Health Organization has declared Zika a global health emergency.

Health officials are investigating whether there is a link between Zika infections in pregnant women and cases of microcephaly, a rare condition in which infants are born with abnormally small heads. Pregnant women have been advised against traveling to infected areas.

As the virus has spread across Latin America, anxiety has grown among athletes and Olympic teams. Budgett said the situation should be kept “in perspective.”

“Everything that can be done is being done,” he said by telephone from Lillehammer, Norway, a day ahead of the opening of the Winter Youth Olympics. “We can give the reassurance that authorities in Brazil are taking it extremely seriously.

“Concern and worry is appropriate, but there is no restriction on travel,” Budgett added. “People need to take measures to avoid being bitten and be sensible. There is no recommendation from health authorities to change travel plans.”

Budgett said the possibility of calling off the games has never been on the table.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “No one from the public authorities or World Health Organization or government ministry are actually saying we should even consider canceling the games.”

Budgett reiterated the position that the threat from mosquitoes should be reduced during the Olympics because the games will be during Brazil’s winter, when temperatures are colder and drier.

Brazilian organizers plan to send a letter to all national Olympic committees and international sports federations to explain how they are dealing with the virus, Budgett said.

Rio organizing committee spokesman Mario Andrada confirmed that a memo would be sent on Friday or over the weekend.

“Our main job is to calm down everybody,” Andrada told the AP. “The panic is starting (to be) a little too much. We are looking for true facts to make sure we don’t generate any unnecessary worries.”

Budgett said the IOC is in regular contact with the WHO, which has a unit dealing specifically with mass gatherings, such as the Olympics.

“The IOC are not experts on infection disease,” he said. “We follow the experts, and the WHO and the others at the moment say there is absolutely no restriction on travel, but to seek advice if you are pregnant or planning to be.”

The U.S. Olympic Committee said it would hire two infectious disease specialists to advise potential Olympians who are worried about the Zika outbreak.

“That’s absolutely fine,” Budgett said. “Everyone involved should take the best expert advice.”

Among athletes who have openly voiced worries about going to the games is U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo.

“All I can do is speak for myself. If the Olympics were today, I would not go,” she said Wednesday in Frisco, Texas.

Budgett said comments such as Solo’s are positive and negative.

“It shows people are taking their health seriously and want to protect their health. That’s good,” he said. “It’s negative in that it’s not actually following the advice of health authorities.”

Ultimately, he said, the choice is up to each individual.

“You certainly can never force anyone to go,” he said. “We just have to keep reiterating the official advice of world health authorities.”

Meanwhile, the Australia team medical director said water quality will be more of a threat to the health of athletes and officials at the Olympics than Zika.

In a telephone interview with the AP, Dr. David Hughes said the polluted waters of Guanabara Bay and other aquatic venues for Olympic events were a serious health issue.

“If someone gets a nasty gastro infection, vomiting and diarrhea, it’s not ideal for competing in an Olympic environment,” Hughes said.

Testing of Guanabara Bay conducted by the AP over the last year shows disease-causing viruses linked to human sewage at levels well above what would be considered alarming in the U.S. or Europe.

MORE: USOC to hire Zika specialists

Venus, Serena Wiliams lead U.S. Olympic tennis team

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05:  Gold medalists Serena Williams of the United States and Venus Williams of the United States celebrate during the medal ceremony for the Women's Doubles Tennis on Day 9 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on August 5, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Venus Williams is headed to her record fifth Olympics, and Serena Williams to her fourth.

The sisters who have combined to win two Olympic singles titles and three Olympic doubles titles lead 12 U.S. players on a provisional International Tennis Federation field list for Rio published Thursday.

Their presence is no surprise. ATP and WTA rankings from June 6 determined the makeup of the Olympic field. Serena is currently ranked No. 1. Venus is at No. 8.

The U.S. women’s singles players on the provisional list were confirmed as Rio Olympians by the USTA, while the men are not official yet.

Women’s Singles
Serena Williams (also doubles)
Venus Williams (also doubles)
Madison Keys
Sloane Stephens

Men’s Singles
Jack Sock (also doubles)
Steve Johnson (also doubles)
Denis Kudla
Brian Baker

Women’s Doubles
Bethanie Mattek-Sands/CoCo Vandeweghe

Men’s Doubles
Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan

Mixed doubles entries will be decided later, perhaps not until the Games in August.

Since tennis returned to the Olympic program after a 64-year break in 1988, only one Olympic singles player has been older than Venus will be in August (Jonas Bjorkman, also 36, at Beijing 2008), according to sports-reference.com.

Nobody has previously played in five Olympic singles tournaments. Venus and Roger Federer will both hit their fifth in Rio.

Venus and Serena are attempting to extend their shared record of four Olympic tennis gold medals and, with one medal in Rio, match the Olympic record for overall tennis medals held by 1920s British player Kitty McKane.

Usain Bolt opens Jamaican Olympic Trials without the doubt of 2012

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The Jamaican Olympic Track and Field Trials begin Thursday in Kingston (meet site here), and they have less fanfare than four years ago.

That’s because there is no doubt Usain Bolt is the island’s best sprinter. That wasn’t the case in 2012.

Bolt was beaten in the Jamaican Trials 100m and 200m by younger training partner Yohan Blake four years ago. Bolt still made the team in second place, but it meant that he went into the Games as less than the massive favorite he was at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Bolt reversed those Trials results at the London Games, taking gold to Blake’s silver in the 100m and 200m. And Blake hasn’t been the same since, with hamstring injuries plaguing him for much of this Olympic cycle. Blake is not assured of making the Jamaican Olympic team in the 100m and 200m.

Bolt, Blake and former world-record holder Asafa Powell headline the 100m that begins Thursday. The semifinals and final are Friday night, with the top three in line to make the Olympic team individually, plus more for the relay.

The 200m, where Bolt is an even bigger favorite, is on Saturday and Sunday.

On June 11, Bolt won what amounted to an Olympic Trials preview, also in Kingston. He stumbled in his first several steps but still clocked 9.88 seconds, his fastest time this early in a year since 2012.

Nickel Ashmeade and Blake were second and third, both in 9.94 seconds, with Powell crossing in 9.98.

Bolt’s time makes him the second-fastest man in the world this year behind France’s Jimmy Vicaut, a rising 24-year-old whose best Olympic or world championships 100m finish is sixth.

Justin Gatlin, considered Bolt’s biggest rival, has not been as fast this spring as in 2015.

Also at Jamaican Trials, two-time Olympic women’s 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce faces questions about her form given a recent toe injury.

She last raced June 11, when she clocked 11.09 in a 100m, which ranks her fifth among Jamaicans this year.

The benefit for Fraser-Pryce is that Jamaica has only two other established star sprinters posting fast times — two-time Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown and world 200m silver medalist Elaine Thompson — and of course three women make the Olympic team each in the 100m and 200m.

MORE: Bolt says ‘not a problem’ if he must return gold medal in Carter case