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USOC forms infectious disease panel to address Zika concerns

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DENVER (AP) — An infectious disease specialist from the University of Utah will chair a group formed by the U.S. Olympic Committee to address concerns about the Zika virus and other health issues at the Rio de Janeiro Games this summer.

Carrie Byington will head the group that will establish best practices for those in the U.S. Olympic delegation traveling to Brazil. The mosquito-borne virus is an epidemic in Central and Latin America; the World Health Organization has declared it a global health emergency.

Zika causes mild illness or no symptoms in most people but is believed to be linked to a birth defect that causes babies to be born with unusually small heads.

The USOC panel will develop educational material and be available to offer updates and create plans for athletes who become ill.

Also on the panel are Randy Taplitz of University of California-San Diego and Capt. Martin S. Cetron from the Centers for Disease Control.

“The health and safety of our athletes, and our entire delegation, is our top priority,” said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun.

But the USOC came under scrutiny earlier this year when some U.S. athletes questioned whether they might travel to Brazil for the Olympics.

Most notably, U.S. soccer player Hope Solo said if the Olympics were being held now, she wouldn’t go.

The USOC responded by sending a letter to members of its delegation emphasizing the federation’s concern about the virus. It publicized a page on its website — USOC.org/RioTravelUpdates — where it would post the most recent news on Zika and other health-related concerns.

The CDC’s most recent advice, issued last week, was for pregnant women to consider not going and for their male sexual partners to use condoms after the trip or abstain from sex during the pregnancy.

The CDC also recommends that all travelers use insect repellent while in outbreak areas and continue to use it for three weeks after travel in case they might be infected but not sick.

The Olympics will be held Aug. 5-21, which is winter in Brazil, and mosquitoes aren’t expected to be as abundant.

Still, America sends the largest delegation — one filled with stars, some of whom have already voiced their opinions.

Earlier this week, Michael Phelps said that he’ll travel to Brazil, along with his fiancee and their newborn son.

“We’re not worried about it,” Phelps said. “I think if you go into any Olympics, there’s always something that comes up.”

The International Olympic Committee has distributed guidance to all the Olympic teams. The USOC is monitoring that advice, and making members of the new panel available to its athletes.

“Our in-house medical team are some of the best in the world at what they do, but having access to, and relying upon, the kind of outside expertise represented by this advisory group is just another way we can make sure our athletes and staff have what they need to be well and compete at a high level,” said the USOC’s managing director of sports medicine, Bill Moreau.

MORE: Michael Phelps has no worries about fiancee, son going to Rio

Yuzuru Hanyu to miss Japan Figure Skating Championships

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Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning Olympic and world figure skating champion, will miss his national championships this week after suffering ankle and knee injuries this fall, according to Japanese media citing the Japan Skating Federation.

Hanyu can (and very likely will) be named to Japan’s three-man Olympic team despite missing nationals.

Hanyu has reportedly been off the ice for more than one month since a Nov. 9 practice fall.

“It is an important selection competition, and the Olympics are a big goal, so with that in mind we would like to think things through together,” Japan Skating Federation director Yoshiko Kobayashi said last week, according to Kyodo News.

Hanyu, who turned 23 on Dec. 7, fell on a quadruple Lutz attempted and then favored his right ankle in a Nov. 9 practice at a Grand Prix event (video here).

He skated the run-through for his free skate, although he elected not to do any more jumps.

“I have been told by the doctor that I need 10 days of complete rest,” Hanyu said in a statement on Nov. 12, according to Kyodo. “Following that, it will take three to four weeks to return and get back to where I was.”

Hanyu and world silver medalist Shoma Uno are favored to lead Japan’s Olympic men’s figure skating team. The third spot is likely to go to Takahito Mura or Keiji Tanaka.

Hanyu competed twice this season.

He posted a world-record short program score in his debut at a small September event in Canada, but struggled to fifth place in the free skate and finished second overall behind two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain.

He then finished second to U.S. champion Nathan Chen at the first Grand Prix event of the season in Moscow in October.

Chen is the only undefeated male singles skater this season.

Hanyu won four straight national titles before missing last season’s event with the flu.

He was still named to Japan’s team for worlds, where he won his second title in four years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Green Bay Packers pull another Olympic sport TD celebration

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We’re halfway to a decathlon of Olympic sport touchdown celebrations over the last two seasons.

After the hurdles, the long jump, the bobsled and the relay came the race walk on Sunday.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, once part of a three-man bobsled team, led three other teammates in a race walk after scoring in Sunday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers. (Adams later left the game with a concussion.)

Adams won the race walk, which was much, much shorter than the standard Olympic distances of 20km and 50km, over teammates Jordy NelsonRandall Cobb and Geronimo Allison.

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