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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

Claressa Shields congratulated by famous boxing actor (video)

Claressa Shields
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Claressa Shields may just be the most dominant female athlete on the planet. The Flint, Mich., native is now a two-time Olympic boxing champion with a 77-1 record and a four-year unbeaten streak.

Actor Mark Wahlberg, who played boxer Micky Ward in the 2010 film “The Fighter,” took notice.

He taped a video that Shields watched before a celebration in her hometown Thursday, according to the Flint Journal.

“You are the true definition of a champion,” Wahlberg said. “You continue to inspire so many people, not only in Flint, but all over the world. I’m so proud of you. Your performance was amazing. God bless you. I look forward to seeing you, and I look forward to doing lots of things with you.”

Now Shields must decide whether to turn professional, which would end her Olympic career.

“Professional women’s boxing is not nowhere near on the same attention level as the Olympics are,” the 21-year-old Shields said, according to the Flint Journal. “I get way more attention than any female boxer who is professional right now with me being an amateur.

“So the goal is to go professional but still have that same attention and same mainstream. Hopefully, if they have the rule changed that the women professionals can come back and fight the Olympics, I would go professional to fight on TV and make a bunch of money but then come back and defend my two gold medals in 2020.”

MORE: Shields becomes first U.S. fighter to win back-to-back golds

Russian Olympic medalists gifts include racehorse

Abdulrashid Sadulaev
AP
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MOSCOW (AP) — Luxury cars, apartments, even a racehorse — being an Olympic medalist in Russia can come with great material rewards but also controversy.

Under President Vladimir Putin, it’s become a tradition for Russia’s Olympic heroes to be showered with large cash sums and sometimes unwanted gifts.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after dozens of medalists were presented with BMW cars at the Kremlin by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, an advertisement appeared online offering one of them for sale, with photographs showing the car still covered in stickers celebrating Russia’s medal haul in Rio.

The advertisement offering the BMW X6 for 4.67 million rubles ($72,000) was anonymous and quickly withdrawn. It couldn’t be independently verified by The Associated Press, though Russian agency R-Sport claimed the seller was a Russian medalist who thought the car was too big and unwieldy.

Figure skater Maxim Trankov, who received a Mercedes-Benz SUV for his gold medal in 2014, said few Olympians could afford to own such cars.

“Has no one thought that these gift cars are not only liable for the tax on luxury items, but also aren’t cheap to run and earnings can’t cover it?” he wrote on Twitter. “I’d sell mine too if it came to it … Or does everyone think all sports pay as well as soccer, hockey or tennis?”

Gymnast Seda Tutkhalyan said she wouldn’t be able to drive her new BMW because at 17 years of age she was too young to have a license.

While online commenters mostly supported an athlete’s right to sell expensive Olympic gifts, many were critical of the government for a display of conspicuous consumption at the Kremlin at a time when Russia’s pension and healthcare systems are under financial strain.

It’s not fully clear how much the prizes have cost the Russian government.

State TV channel Rossiya 24 reported that the fleet of BMWs was provided by the Olympians’ Support Fund, which is backed by a group of Russia’s richest men, but that the accompanying cash prizes of tens of thousands of dollars per medalist came in part from the federal budget.

More awards are on offer from regional governments, many of which made public displays of generosity despite financial troubles of their own.

The Caucasus region of North Ossetia last month promised a free apartment for any medalists from the area, though it isn’t clear if this has happened yet.

In another grand gesture, the head of the restive Dagestan region gave Olympic wrestling champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev 6 million rubles ($93,000) in cash and a racehorse at a lavish welcoming ceremony featured on local TV.

Still, all may not be well for Sadulaev, who’s nicknamed the “Russian Tank” for his habit of crushing opponents on the wrestling mat. He’s already facing an allegation from a Moscow radio presenter of reckless driving in his eye-catching BMW.

MORE: Putin slams Russia’s Paralympic ban