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

Cyclist in induced coma after Tour of Poland crash

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was put into an induced coma Wednesday after suffering injuries in a crash on the final stretch of the Tour of Poland, organizers said.

A massive crash at the finish of the first stage resulted in Dylan Groenewegen‘s disqualification from the race.

Leading a bunch sprint, Groenewegen veered toward the right barrier, pinching countryman Jakobsen, who barreled into the barrier meters from the finish line.

Jakobsen went head over heels, his bike went airborne and the barriers exploded onto the road, causing more cyclists to crash.

Jakobsen was airlifted to a hospital in serious condition and was put into an induced coma, the Tour de Pologne press office said.

Doctor Pawel Gruenpeter of the hospital in Sosnowiec said Jakobsen suffered injuries to the head and chest but that his condition was stable at the intensive care unit. Jakobsen will need surgery to his face and skull, Gruenpeter told state broadcaster TVP Sport.

Groenewegen crossed the finish line first but was disqualified, giving Jakobsen the stage win, according to the stage race website.

Groenewegen, a 27-year-old Jumbo-Visma rider, owns four Tour de France stage wins among the last three years.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) “strongly condemned” Groenewegen’s “dangerous” and “unacceptable” behavior. It referred Groenewegen’s actions to a disciplinary commission for possible sanctions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

Skate America
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

MORE: World’s top skater leaves famed coach

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!