Christ the Redeemer
Getty Images

‘Minimal risk’ of Zika virus during Olympics, Rio Games medical director says

5 Comments

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Zika virus is overshadowing the final preparations for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, even eclipsing concerns over deep budget cuts and severe water pollution.

Hundreds of reporters packed Olympic headquarters on Tuesday to hear about ticket sales, venue construction and a reminder that Friday marks six months until the opening of the Games on Aug. 5.

Instead, they got the organizers’ medical director, Dr. Joao Grangeiro, and government health officials offering assurances that the Games will be safe from Zika and that only pregnant women are at risk from the mosquito-borne virus with its epicenter in Brazil.

“Athletes should come to the Olympic Games,” said Grangeiro, who said organizers are following guidelines of the World Health Organization, which calls the spread of the virus an “extraordinary event and public health threat.”

“They [athletes] are not at risk,” Grangeiro added, promising the mosquito count will fall in August during Brazil’s winter.

“We will have Summer Games, but for us it’s winter time,” he said. “We will not have an epidemic or pandemic situation. We can’t say we won’t have any cases [during the Games], but we see this as a minimal risk.”

Daniel Soranz, Rio’s city health secretary, told reporters the mosquitoes around the Olympic Park, the heart of the Games, were not primarily the Aedes aegypt type that transmit Zika.

“We have routine daily actions in the area in order to diminish the number of mosquitoes,” he said.

Jaques Wagner, the chief of staff for Brazil president Dilma Rousseff, said Monday there was no risk to athletes unless “they are pregnant women.” He said pregnant women were “not recommended” to travel to Brazil.

The Zika virus is another problem for Rio organizers, who have been forced to cut about $500 million to keep the $2 billion operating budget in balance with Brazil going through its deepest recession since the 1930s.

The local currency has lost about 30 percent of its value against the dollar in the last year, inflation is above 10 percent and Rousseff is fighting impeachment.

Rio organizing committee spokesman Mario Andrada was asked how organizers can fund programs to kill mosquitoes as they slash other expenditures.

“In this case the most important thing to do is obviously to care for those who have been infected and to prevent new infections, and not to worry if we have budget or not,” Andrada said.

“We have the funds that we need to do the work that we have to do,” Andrada added, without specifying the cost.

He was also asked if tourists were getting worried about traveling to Brazil.

“No. I don’t have even one request to return tickets,” he replied.

Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympic Games, said sports federations were briefed about Zika on Tuesday at the IOC offices in Lausanne, Switzerland.

He said the Olympics had dealt with the SARS virus before the 2008 Beijing Games, and Ebola during the 2014 Summer Youth Games in Nanjing, China.

“It is not unusual, not comfortable obviously, but at the same time there’s a very good response from the Brazilian authorities,” he said, “especially with the huge mobilization of armed forces.”

MORE: Brazil’s first Olympic bid, Olympian matters of debate

Simone Biles, her name sparkling, extends 6-year win streak

Leave a comment

Simone Biles has long stood out for her gymnastics, but on Saturday she competed with her last name sparkling in silver beads on her World Champions Centre leotard for the first time. The gym’s other athletes had “WCC” on the back.

Biles lived up to the billing, extending her six-year win streak to 19 straight all-arounds, capturing the U.S. Classic, a tune-up for next month’s U.S. Championships.

Biles, the four-time Rio Olympic champion, scored 60 points in Louisville at the meet where she made her comeback last year after nearly two years off from competition. She prevailed by a comfortable 2.1 points over Riley McCusker, her largest margin of victory of her four U.S. Classic titles.

“I’m very satisfied,” she said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’m a little sad that I went out of bounds on floor [exercise], but overall I feel like there are improvements to be made.”

Full results are here.

Biles is prepping for nationals in Kansas City in three weeks, when she eyes a sixth U.S. all-around title to tie Clara Schroth Lomady‘s record from the AAU era in the 1940s and ’50s.

Then come the world championships in October in Stuttgart, Germany. Biles could win a fifth all-around to move one shy of Kohei Uchimura‘s record.

The world’s other top gymnasts may be her countrywomen.

Biles was outscored on balance beam on Saturday by 2018 World teammates Kara Eaker and McCusker and beaten on uneven bars by 2017 World all-around champion Morgan HurdSunisa Lee, Grace McCallum and McCusker. Biles swept all the gold medals at last year’s nationals.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: USA Gymnastics revamps Safe Sport policy amid abuse scandal

Geraint Thomas struggles; Julian Alaphilippe ups Tour de France lead

Leave a comment

LA MONGIE, France (AP) — When the team of Geraint Thomas was in its pomp at the Tour de France, a time trial followed by a big mountain stage would have been playgrounds for Sky — now in new colors as Ineos — to take cycling’s greatest race by the scruff of the neck and leave everyone else fighting for second place.

Not this year.

Thomas, the defending champion, cracked on Saturday on the Tour’s first encounter with a climb to above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), exposing unprecedented weaknesses in his team that has won six Tours in the past seven years.

The time trial on Friday and the climb up to the legendary Tourmalet pass on Saturday seemed primed for Thomas to reel in Julian Alaphilippe, the yellow jersey-holder from France who is setting the Tour alight with his punchy riding and determination to keep the race lead, filling French fans’ heads with dreams of a first homegrown winner since 1985.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

But instead, Thomas has seen Alaphilippe only get further and further away. In two days, the Frenchman has put 50 seconds of extra daylight between him and the Welshman. His lead — up to 2 minutes, 2 seconds — is becoming large enough to start realistically envisioning Alaphilippe in yellow in Paris next weekend as the first French winner since Bernard Hinault.

Fueling the ecstasy of delirious crowds that lined Saturday’s steep uphill finish, French rider Thibaut Pinot won Stage 14, putting him back in the picture to fight for the podium after he lost mountains of time on Stage 10.

Thomas rightly pointed out that the Tour is far from done, with six more ascents to above 2,000 meters still to come.

But his inability to stay with Pinot, Alaphilippe and other title contenders at the top of the Tourmalet — he was eighth, 36 seconds behind Pinot — was a mini-earthquake for the Tour dominated by his British team since 2012 — with champions Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and, in 2018, Thomas.

“Not the best day. I just didn’t feel quite on it from the start. I was quite weak,” Thomas said.

“At the end I knew I just had to pace it. I didn’t really attempt to follow when they kicked. I just thought I should ride my own pace rather than follow them and blow up on the steepest bit at the end. It’s disappointing. I just tried to limit the damage.”

Having taken cycling to a new level since 2012 with its vast budget and attention to the minutest of details, the team run by David Brailsford has been hit both by misfortune and by the inevitability that, eventually, other teams would start to close the gap.

A horror crash in training for four-time winner Froome, now recovering from career-threatening broken bones, robbed the team of its ace. Thomas’ own preparations were hampered by a crash at the Tour of Switzerland last month.

And Egan Bernal, being groomed by Brailsford to succeed Froome and Thomas, looks increasingly unable to compete for the title this year. Bernal was fifth on the Tourmalet and is fourth overall, 3 minutes behind Alaphilippe.

Pinot, now sixth overall and 3:12 behind Alaphilippe, is showing remarkable grit in bouncing back from his Stage 10 misfortune, when he was part of a group that got separated from other title contenders in crosswinds.

“I have this rage inside me, because in my opinion it was an injustice,” said Pinot, a podium finisher in 2014.

“Since the start of the Tour I had this stage in the back of my mind. The Tourmalet, it’s mythical,” said Pinot, who has three career stage wins at the Tour.

French President Emmanuel Macron, on hand at the top of the Tourmalet to see Pinot win and Alaphilippe extend his lead, gushed about the “two fantastic riders.”

“They attack and they have heart,” Macron said.

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!