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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

U.S. adds another medal at cross-country skiing worlds

LAHTI, FINLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Jessica Diggins (L) of USA celebrate with team mate Sadie Bjornsen winning 3rd place in the Men's and Women's Cross Country Team Sprint Final during the FIS Nordic World Ski Championship on February 26, 2017 in Lahti, Finland.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Cross-country skiers Jessie Diggins and Sadie Bjornsen made it three medals for the U.S. at the world championships on Sunday.

Diggins and Bjornsen earned bronze in the team sprint event, 18.38 seconds behind winner Norway and 12.8 seconds behind silver medalist Russia. Diggins and Kikkan Randall previously earned silver and bronze in the individual sprint on Thursday.

It’s the first worlds where the U.S. has earned medals in multiple cross-country events.

On Sunday, Diggins lunged at the line to beat Sweden to third place by a fifth of a second.

“I was double poling like a maniac,” Diggins said, according to the U.S. Ski Team. “I skied the downhill the best I knew how and was able to draft her and get into my own lane with the best line — I took the inside lane so I knew I would be able to pick my track going into the final 100 meters. Then I just double poled my heart out.”

Bjornsen fell after completing the second exchange and was struck in the face by Russian Yulia Belorukova‘s ski, but was able to continue.

The team sprint is a 6×1.3km relay, with each country’s skiers alternating to race three legs each. It will be contested at the 2018 Olympics in the freestyle technique. Sunday’s event was classic skiing, marking the first American medal in worlds in the classic technique since the two disciplines were established.

Russia won the men’s team sprint after a dramatic last-lap crash wrecked the chances of the two leading teams.

Norway’s Emil Iversen was fighting for the lead with Finland’s Iivo Niskanen but they collided as the Finn moved to overtake on the inside of the final bend.

Sergei Ustyugov took the win for Russia, overtaking Italian Federico Pellegrino on the final stretch to win by 2.2 seconds. Niskanen recovered to take third, 6.5 seconds further back.

It was the second win in two days for Ustyugov, who also won Saturday’s skiathlon, and his third medal of the championships.

Ustyugov’s teammate for Sunday’s race, Nikita Kryukov, said the win was “revenge for Sochi,” a reference to the 2014 Winter Olympics, when Finland beat Russia to gold in the men’s team sprint in front of a Russian home crowd.

Also Sunday, Germany won the men’s team Nordic combined normal hill event. The Germans dominated the ski jumping to take a 44-second advantage into the 4x5km cross-country ski stage, and preserved that margin to win by 41.7 seconds from Norway.

Austria won a close battle with Japan to take third, 22 seconds behind the Norwegians.

It was Germany’s second gold medal in Nordic combined at the world championships after Johannes Rydzeck led a 1-2-3 finish in the men’s individual normal hill event Friday.

The Germans added another gold medal with a dominant victory in the mixed team ski jumping.

They led after each of the eight rounds and racked up a winning score of 1035.5 points, with strong jumps from Markus Eisenbichler, who set the longest jump at 99.5 meters, and the newly crowned women’s world champion Carina Vogt.

Austria was second on 999.3 and Japan third on 979.7.

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MORE: ‘Worst skier alive’ makes it to cross-country worlds after deportation

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Germany, with tie for gold, sweeps four-man bobsled medals to close worlds

INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA - FEBRUARY 05:  Francesco Friedrich, Candy Bauer, Martin Grothkopp and Thorsten Margis of Germany compete during the final run of the 4-man Bobsleigh BMW IBSF World Cup at Olympiabobbahn Igls on February 5, 2017 in Innsbruck, Austria.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images For IBSF)
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With a tie for four-man gold, Germany notched the first-ever men’s bobsled medal sweep at an Olympics or world championships on Sunday.

Francesco Friedrich and Johannes Lochner tied for the four-man world title with identical times after four runs of 3:14.10 in Koenigssee, Germany. Countryman Nico Walther took bronze, .16 behind.

The top American was 2010 Olympic champion Steven Holcomb in fifth. Holcomb was .01 out of bronze going into the fourth and final run but ended up. 18 behind Walther.

“This is really hard to swallow for these guys,” U.S. coach Brian Shimer said, according to U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton. “Holcomb’s team is starting to show signs of greatness, and they’ve come a long way for such a young push crew, and Holcomb continues to get back to his old self after a couple of years of injuries. I know he’s got to be really disappointed, but this race showed we’re taking a big step in the right direction.”

Germany completed a dominant world bobsled and skeleton championships by taking eight of the 15 medals in Olympic-program events. Last weekend, Friedrich earned his fourth straight world title in two-man bobsled.

Earlier Sunday, Latvian Martins Dukurs won his fifth skeleton world title in the last six editions. Dukurs, who settled for silver at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, beat German Axel Jungk by .37 after four runs in Koenigssee.

“I was really lucky, especially my fourth run was awful,” said Dukurs, who held on despite having the fourth-fastest third and fourth runs. “But that’s the past, luckily for me also the other guys made mistakes.”

Russian Olympian Nikita Tregybov took bronze. Olympic bronze medalist Matthew Antoine was the top American in seventh.

“I’m disappointed, seventh isn’t what I came here to achieve,” Antoine said, according to U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton. “I don’t think I slid all that poorly, but I didn’t push very well, and on a track like this, you can’t give up that much at the start and expect to have a good result. The reality is that I’m an Olympic medalist and results like this don’t mean anything to me.”

The race lacked one of the PyeongChang Olympic favorites, South Korean Yun Sung-bin, who skipped worlds to get more training time in South Korea.

The rest of the top bobsledders and skeleton sliders will join Yun in South Korea in March for training and the final World Cup stop at the 2018 Olympic venue.

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MORE: Germany dominates women’s skeleton worlds