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WHO increasingly worried about Zika, but Olympics OK to go on

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GENEVA (AP) — The World Health Organization’s chief says the agency is increasingly concerned about the Zika virus, even though it does not recommend canceling or postponing the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics in hard-hit Brazil.

“The more we learn about Zika, the more worried we get about it,” Dr. Margaret Chan said in a briefing Tuesday in Geneva, saying she herself would be going to the Rio Games.

Chan noted that although Zika has been around for decades, it is only recently that the virus has been proven to cause severe birth defects and neurological problems — including in newborn children.

She reiterated the U.N. health agency’s advice that pregnant women should not travel to Brazil, which has by far the biggest number of Zika cases.

She said the agency was recommending that both Olympic athletes and travelers to Rio take measures to prevent being bitten by the mosquitoes that spread Zika. Still, she didn’t see a reason why the games — which are expected to draw about 500,000 people to Brazil — should be moved.

“You don’t want to bring a standstill to the world’s movement of people,” Chan said. “This is all about risk assessment and risk management.”

Asked if she agreed with WHO’s Zika response chief Bruce Aylward, who declared earlier this year that Rio will host a “fantastic” Olympic games, Chan said it will be.

“I’m going,” she said.

But Chan did not address the Rio Olympics’ other big health risk — the filthy, virus-laden waters that sailors, rowers and some swimmers will have to navigate.

In February, WHO declared the explosive outbreak of Zika to be a global health emergency and the virus has now spread to nearly 60 countries.

The agency is constantly monitoring its evolution, and could change its advice to travelers depending on how Zika progresses, WHO officials say.

Some experts have called for this year’s Olympics, which run from Aug. 5-21, to be moved or delayed to prevent the avoidable birth of brain-damaged babies. They also warn that the Rio Olympics could spark new Zika outbreaks in other countries and speed up the virus’ international spread.

Chan said Olympic athletes were getting advice from their national medical advisers, singling out Australia as one country that has issued “very positive” guidelines to its Olympic team. Other countries are taking measures such as providing protective clothing, window screens and air conditioning “to minimize the risk,” she said.

Australia’s medical director for the Olympic team said last week that the risk of Zika to athletes was “minimal” and that the last people he had spoken to who had been to Rio recently hadn’t even seen a mosquito. The statement made no mention of the fact that Zika can cause the birth of permanently brain-damaged babies.

Chan was speaking ahead of next week’s World Health Assembly, a crucial WHO annual event that draws more than 3,500 delegates and address six dozen topics — including resistance to antimicrobial drugs, a global shortage of medicines and vaccines and maternal health.

Despite Chan’s concern about the Zika outbreak, not a single session at next week’s meeting is focused on the virus, even though Zika is expected to come up in a number of discussions at the assembly.

MORE: Australian Olympians to receive condoms fighting Zika in Rio

Genzebe Dibaba, 1500m world record holder, to miss world championships

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Genzebe Dibaba, the 1500m world record holder, will miss the world track and field championships that start next week due to a right foot injury, according to her agency.

The Ethiopian Dibaba lowered the 1500m world record to 3:50.07 in 2015, then won the world title a month later. Kenyan Faith Kipyegon relegated her to silver at the Rio Olympics. Dibaba was last in the 12-woman final at the 2017 Worlds, then withdrew from the 5000m at that meet, citing illness.

Dibaba’s absence further opens the door for Americans Shelby Houlihan (second-fastest in the world last year) and Jenny Simpson, the Olympic bronze medalist and 2017 World silver medalist.

Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan is fastest in the world this year and broke the mile world record on July 12. Hassan has range from 800m through 10,000m, and it’s not guaranteed she will contest the 1500m in Doha starting with the first round Oct. 2.

The event is already lacking Caster Semenya, the two-time Olympic 800m champion who took bronze in her world 1500m debut in 2017. Semenya is excluded from races from 400m through the mile under the IAAF’s new rule capping testosterone in those events.

MORE: U.S. roster for track and field worlds

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How to watch, stream U.S. International Classic on NBC Sports Gold

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The U.S. International Figure Skating Classic gets underway in Salt Lake City, Utah this weekend and NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will be live streaming all of the action.

The event is the third stop of the ISU’s Challenger Series and often serves as a warm-up for Grand Prix events for skaters, which start in October.

The men’s field is headlined by world bronze medalist and 2018 Olympian Vincent Zhou, joined by the 2019 world junior bronze medalist in the ladies’ event, Ting Cui. Reigning U.S. pairs champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc will make their season debut in Salt Lake. And in ice dance, Four Continents gold medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates are slated to compete.

Check out the schedule below (all times Eastern):

Friday, Sept. 19

8:30 p.m.: Pairs’ short program (LINK)

10 p.m.: Men’s short program (LINK)

Saturday, Sept. 20

4:30 p.m.: Rhythm dance (LINK)

6:15 p.m.: Ladies’ short program (LINK)

8:35 p.m.: Pairs’ short program (LINK)

10:30 p.m.: Men’s free skate (LINK)

Sunday, Sept. 21

6:25 p.m.: Free dance (LINK)

8:15 p.m.: Ladies’ free skate (LINK)

MORE: Vincent Zhou to attend Brown University, details new skating situation

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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