Swimming
Getty Images

USA Swimming moves pre-Olympic training camp due to Zika virus

Leave a comment

ATLANTA (AP) — USA Swimming has moved a pre-Olympic training camp out of Puerto Rico because of the Zika virus.

There are no plans to bail on the Summer Games in Brazil, even though that country has been the epicenter of the outbreak.

Frank Busch, the U.S. national team director, sent out a letter Thursday to all national team athletes and coaches telling them of the change. The camp will now be held in Atlanta instead of Puerto Rico in late July.

“As part of our preparations for the Olympic Games this summer, we have been closely monitoring the current situation with the Zika virus,” Busch wrote in his letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press. “According to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and other health experts in the field of science and medicine, our athletes would be highly exposed to the Zika virus in Puerto Rico.”

The U.S. team is still scheduled to hold a training camp in San Antonio from July 11-21.

After that, the team had been planning to make a stop in Puerto Rico for several more days of training before traveling on to Rio de Janeiro, where the Olympic swimming competition begins Aug. 6.

Now, that camp will be held at the Georgia Tech aquatic center, site of the 1996 Olympics and a meet just last weekend featuring gold medalists Katie Ledecky and Nathan Adrian.

“I think it’s the prudent thing to do,” said Bob Bowman, who coaches 18-time gold medalist Michael Phelps.

When asked about the seeming contradiction of canceling a camp in Puerto Rico because of Zika but going on to compete in the country hardest hit by the virus, Bowman said he believes the risk will actually be much lower at the Olympics.

“Honestly, we can control it better in Rio,” he said. “They’re taking every precaution they can. We’re talking about swimming in an indoor venue in the wintertime. Plus, we have other measures we can take. We just feel like that’s a much more controlled environment.”

USA Swimming’s decision follows a move by Major League Baseball to shift two regular-season games out of San Juan because of players’ concerns about the virus. The May 30-31 series between the Marlins and the Pittsburgh Pirates will now be played in Miami.

The Zika virus is carried by mosquitoes and has been linked to microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with undersized brains and skulls. There are also concerns that it might contribute to the Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults, a condition that leads to rapid muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the peripheral nervous system.

“The health and safety of our athletes is USA Swimming’s primary priority and responsibility,” said Scott Leightman, a spokesman for USA Swimming.

The Zika outbreak has been one of the major headaches facing Olympic organizers as they prepare for South America’s first Olympics. Brazilian officials insist that precautions will be taken to keep athletes safe and point to the onset of winter in Brazil as being helpful in reducing the mosquito population.

But a Canadian professor, in an article published last week by the Harvard Public Health Review, warned that the Olympics should be postponed or moved until the virus is under control. Amir Attaran of the University of Ottawa warned that the influx of visitors to Brazil will result in the avoidable births of malformed babies.

Brazil is by far the country most affected by Zika, though hundreds have now been infected in Puerto Rico, including the U.S. commonwealth’s first confirmed death from the virus.

Busch wrote that a number of factors went into the decision to go to Atlanta, including the flight time to Rio (about 9 1-2 hours nonstop), the world-class facilities at Georgia Tech and hotel availability. Bowman also pointed out there’s only a one-hour time difference between Rio and Atlanta.

While no prominent national team members have expressed concerns about competing in Rio, Busch stressed that preventing athletes from being infected while at the Olympics was a top priority.

“We will also educate Olympic team members about Zika and provide them with multiple tools to reduce the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes while in Rio,” he wrote.

Busch said the setup in Atlanta will allow the powerful U.S. team to develop the sort of camaraderie that is so important heading into the Olympics. The squad will be determined at the eight-day trials in Omaha, Nebraska, which begin June 26.

“Team culture is one of the things that sets Team USA apart,” Busch wrote. “We want to make sure our camp creates that unity as we head into the Olympic Games.”

Bowman said it was also important to eliminate any potential distractions heading into Rio. If the camp had stayed in Puerto Rico, some athletes might have worried about contracting Zika before they even got to the Olympics.

“We want to make sure camp preparations are not compromised, even by the mental stress of worrying about it,” Bowman said. “We feel like we’ll have a good, solid camp in Atlanta. That’s the best way to prepare for the games.”

MORE: Michael Phelps’ concussion, more highlights from Bob Bowman’s book

Iran banned from judo for instructing athlete to withdraw rather than face Israel opponent

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Iran has been banned from international judo for instructing one of its athletes to withdraw from August’s world championships rather than face an Israeli judoka.

The International Judo Federation said Iran authorities instructing Saeid Mollaei to withdraw rather than face Israeli judoka Sagi Muki was “a serious breach and gross violation” of its code of ethics and the Olympic Charter.

IJF spokesman Vlad Marinescu said any ban won’t apply to the Tokyo Olympics. That’s because it’s the Iranian Olympic Committee, not the Iranian Judo Federation, which formally enters the Olympic team.

“We have been informed by IJF that they will launch a proper procedure giving all concerned parties the right to be heard,” an International Olympic Committee spokesperson said. “Should the issue become an Olympic issue we will take the result of this procedure into consideration.”

An IJF disciplinary commission said it “has a strong reason to believe that the Iran Judo Federation will continue or repeatedly engage in misconduct” given its history of similar actions with its athletes potentially facing Israelis.

Mollaei, a 2018 World champion, said he was afraid to return to Iran after disobeying those orders at worlds. He competed anyway but lost one round before a potential final with Muki.

“I want to compete wherever I can,” Mollaei said in a statement from the IJF. “I live in a country whose law does not permit me to. We have no choice, all athletes must comply with it. All I did today was for my life, for a new life.

“I need help. Even if the authorities of my country told me that I can go back without any problems, I am afraid.”

The IJF said it would help Mollaei prepare for next year’s Olympics, also in Tokyo. If Iran refuses to enter him, one option could be the International Olympic Committee-backed team of refugee athletes.

Iranian sports teams have for several decades had a policy of not competing against Israelis, which the country does not recognize. The IJF has said Iranians have thrown matches and used “questionable injuries” to avoid competing against Israelis.

Mollaei’s case came four months after judo officials hailed a breakthrough in relations with Iran, publishing a letter signed by Salehi Amiri pledging to “fully respect the Olympic charter and its non-discrimination principle.”

Back in August, Iranian Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar accused the IJF of trying to “create problems” with Mollaei, the IRNA news agency reported. He said Iran will send a protest letter to the IOC.

Iranian team manager Majid Zareian also criticized the IJF, saying “everything was set in advance to put Mollaei against a participant from (Israel).”

“They did not allow me to be present next to my athlete in exercise salon,” Zareian said. “After the competitions they changed hotel of Mollaei without my permission, against the regulations.”

He denied reports Iranian authorities had put pressure on Mollaei.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Israel, judo federation hail letter from Iran; Tehran silent

Jacarra Winchester, after foe bites her, wins first wrestling world title

United World Wrestling
Leave a comment

Jacarra Winchester missed the Rio Olympic wrestling trials after tearing her knee playing soccer. She missed a medal at the 2018 World Championships after a semifinal-winning takedown was reversed.

There was no denying her on Wednesday.

Winchester, who picked up wrestling a decade ago as a high school junior, became the first American to earn a medal at the worlds in Kazakhstan this week. And it was gold.

She came back to beat Japanese Nanami Irie 5-3 in the final of the 55kg division, a weight class that is not on the Olympic program. Winchester must move to 53kg or 57kg next year.

But for now she can celebrate quite a journey. At 26, she’s one of the older wrestlers to become a first-time world champion. She believed she had what it took last year, when a reversed call kept her from the final and she subsequently lost a bronze-medal match.

Winchester, who has problems sleeping, said she replayed the end of that semifinal in her head ever since.

“There’s no reason why I should have gotten beat,” she said Wednesday. “Clearly I have what I need on the mat. I just need to change my mindset. … Just knowing you’re the best, pushing yourself and not letting anything get to me.”

That helped in Tuesday’s semifinals, where Winchester said her Turkish opponent bit her, pulled her hair and twisted her fingers. Winchester, who grew up in the Oakland, Calif., area, said that when she started wrestling she had no Olympic goals.

“I had a mindset of I’m not a quitter,” she said.

Earlier Wednesday, Adeline Gray reached Thursday’s 76kg final, where she will try to become the first American to earn five world titles.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: World Wrestling Championships TV Schedule