Marina Alabau
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Spain Olympic gold medalist: I got Zika training in Brazil, ‘wasn’t that bad’

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SAO PAULO (AP) — Spanish Olympic gold medalist Marina Alabau says she got Zika while training in Brazil in December, suffering painful symptoms in an experience that the wind surfer said won’t stop her from competing in the Games in August.

In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Alabau described symptoms that her doctor said were in line with Zika, a virus that the World Health Organization has deemed an “international health emergency.” She is currently competing at the RS: X World Championship in Israel.

Brazil is an epicenter of Zika, and fear about the virus could scare fans and some athletes from coming to the South American country’s first Olympics. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and sports authorities preparing for hundreds of thousands of visitors to the country have said the Games will be held as scheduled in August.

Many scientists and doctors believe that the mosquito-borne disease is linked to a rare birth defect called microcephaly, or abnormally small heads in infants. The U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned pregnant women to avoid traveling to more than two dozen countries and territories in the Americas where active outbreaks are taking place. Authorities in several countries have urged women to put off pregnancy for a few years.

Despite some very difficult days after getting Zika, the 30-year-old Alabau nevertheless has urged her fellow athletes not to worry.

“There is too much alarm surrounding this. I had the virus and it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t even go to the hospital,” she said.

Alabau said that while training in Rio de Janeiro on one December day, she came down with a fever. It would pass within 24 hours, but other symptoms soon followed.

“Then my whole body turned red and everything itched. Two days later, my joints started aching,” she said. “First it was in the fingers, then my wrists and finally my ankles. It was then that I decided to return to Spain because I was a little worried.”

Alabau said she was not tested for Zika at the time because it seemed like a common bug that her body would eventually defeat. However, she said she would get tested when she is back in Spain in early March. Normally, the virus doesn’t stay in the blood more than several weeks, so it’s unclear whether it will show up when she does a test next month.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, the World Health Organization’s executive director for outbreaks and health emergencies, said Friday the mosquito population is expected to drop off around when Rio hosts the Games, because it will be winter in the Southern Hemisphere. He told a news conference in Geneva that Rio’s Olympic venues are in a relatively confined area, making it easier to control the mosquitoes.

“Brazil is going to have a fantastic Olympics and it’s going to be a successful Olympics and the world is going to go there,” Aylward said.

Carmen Vaz, the Spanish wind surfing federation doctor who diagnosed Alabau, told the AP that the Zika diagnosis was based on the athlete’s symptoms and not on blood work. She said that without blood work other mosquito-borne illnesses with similar symptoms, such as dengue or chikingunya, could not be ruled out.

“At the time, the Zika tests were not available in Spain, as alarm over the virus hadn’t taken hold,” she wrote in an email exchange. Vaz added that she and Alabau had decided to come forward with what had happened to the athlete to “help lower the social alarm that has taken hold, which in our view has been excessive.”

Only about 20 percent of people who get Zika have symptoms, and except for the potential threat to fetuses, it rarely has lasting effects. By contrast, dengue can be particularly lethal, as periodic outbreaks in Brazil kill hundreds each year.

Alabau, who won a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics in London, said the pains continued when she returned home to Spain in early January.

She said she had more pain in her joints and headaches that would last a few hours and then go away.

“I had never had such strange headaches,” she said.

Alabau said her doctor told her that she could only wait it out.

“There was nothing more to do,” Alabau said. “The doctor told me that in four to five days my joints would stop aching.”

Alabau noted by the end of January she was back in competition, first in Miami and now in Israel.

“Some athletes ask me about it and I say it isn’t as serious as they say,” she said. “It’s not as bad a flu or a cold. I always have a great time in Brazil. This was just a little detail.”

MORE: Zika virus will be ‘way down’ before Olympics, UN says

Lindsey Vonn and her dog to host Amazing Race-like series

Lindsey Vonn
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Lindsey Vonn and one of her three dogs, Lucy, will host “The Pack,” an “Amazing Race”-like series where dogs and their humans compete in challenges across continents.

The Amazon Prime show filmed earlier this year and will premiere later in 2020. Production included a team of veterinarians and dog experts to ensure “a positive experience for everyone.”

Twelve teams vie for a prize of $500,000, plus $250,000 for the animal charity of their choice.

Vonn, the 2010 Olympic downhill champion and female record holder with 82 World Cup wins, retired after the February 2019 World Championships, four shy of the overall victories record held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark.

She traveled the last few years of her career with Lucy, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that she got in Italy in January 2016. Lucy required German, Italian and American passports to accompany Vonn on the ski circuit.

Vonn previously adopted rescue dogs Leo, a brindle boxer to help her through recovery from knee surgery that kept her out of the 2014 Olympics, and Bear.

Vonn’s previous broadcast credits included a 2010 appearance as a secretary on “Law & Order,” two judge spots on “Project Runway” and an episode of “Running Wild with Bear Grylls” in 2016.

MORE: Lindsey Vonn’s mom is tough as nails

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London Marathon mass event canceled; Kipchoge, Bekele still to race

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The London Marathon will not hold a mass participation race of 40,000-plus runners, but will have an elites-only event featuring the fastest marathoners in history on a different course.

Organizers announced that the World Marathon Major, previously rescheduled for Oct. 4 from April 26, will be restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Elite runners, including world-record holders Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei and Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest man in history, will instead race but not on the usual route around London landmarks.

They will run on an enclosed looped in St. James’s Park in a “secure biosphere” without spectator access. Elite wheelchair racers, including past champions David Weir and Manuela Schar, will also compete.

Before canceling, London Marathon organizers planned to use Bluetooth and wideband ranging to monitor every participant’s distance from each other, though they did not specify if the event would have still included more than 40,000 runners.

If a participant spent more than 15 minutes within a specified distance of anyone else, and if somebody had informed organizers they contracted the virus within two weeks after the race, he or she would have been contacted.

“Despite all our efforts, the fantastic support from all of our partners and the progress that has been made on planning for the return of smaller mass participation events that are not on the roads, it has not been possible to go ahead with a mass socially distanced walk or run,” event director Hugh Brasher said in press release.

Four of the other five annual World Marathon Majors this year were canceled — Berlin, Boston, Chicago and New York City. The earliest major, Tokyo, was held March 1 with elite runners only.

Kipchoge, the Olympic marathon champion from Kenya, and Bekele, a three-time Olympic track champion from Ethiopia, were previously announced as headliners for London in the winter, before the pandemic.

Kipchoge lowered the world record to 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. Bekele clocked 2:01:41 in Berlin last September. They are the only men to ever break 2:02 in a marathon. Kipchoge also clocked 1:59:40 at a non-record-eligible event in Vienna on Oct. 12 instead of racing a fall marathon.

Kipchoge has won 11 of 12 marathons since moving to road racing after failing to make Kenya’s 2012 Olympic track team.

Bekele, the more accomplished track athlete with Olympic golds and world records at 5000m and 10,000m, has been a roller-coaster road runner.

Bekele owns two of the seven fastest marathons in history, recorded three years apart in Berlin. In between, he failed to finish two marathons and, in his last London start in 2018, clocked a pedestrian 2:08:53 for sixth place.

That was more than four minutes behind Kipchoge, who is undefeated in four London starts and has beaten by Bekele by at least 100 seconds in all four of their head-to-head marathons.

The Kenyan Kosgei took 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old women’s marathon world record on Oct. 13, clocking 2:14:04 to win the Chicago Marathon.

The 2021 London Marathon will also be held in October to give a better chance of holding a mass race than in April.

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MORE: U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials results