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

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier top pairs’ short at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier lead after the pairs’ short program in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California. The top three teams from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and ice dancer Madison Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Nationals continue with the rhythm dance and women’s short program later Thursday.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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