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Rio Olympic committee CEO: Zika virus not among top 10 concerns

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The chief organizer of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics says security is his top concern, well ahead of the Zika virus.

Sidney Levy, CEO of the Rio Organizing Committee, said Tuesday that keeping athletes and visitors safe from terrorism and other crime is his No. 1 top priority. He called the biggest fear “lone wolf” attackers.

“Differently from Zika, security’s at the top of my list – the very top of my list,” Levy said at a Council of the Americas event. “We should never forget that these days we live in a society that’s very in danger.”

The plan is to have 85,000 security personnel on the streets. Levy said the 2013 visit of Pope Francis and the 2014 World Cup were tests for Brazil.

Francisco Dornelles, Rio’s acting governor, warned on Monday that budget shortfalls could compromise security and transit at the games. Levy said intelligence officials from 100 different countries are in Brazil monitoring potential threats.

Zika, a virus linked to birth defects, has drawn widespread international concern. Levy stressed he does not worry about the virus and said none of the people working for him has contracted Zika. He pointed to expected cooler temperatures during the Olympics in his attempt to assuage fears.

“If I have to write on a piece of paper my top 10 worries today, Zika wouldn’t be there,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s not a public health issue. It is a public health issue. But we are going into the winter months in Rio and if you see every statistic of last year’s mosquitos’ proliferation in the summer and in the winter, it goes very high up in February and reaches the peak, which is the height of the summer. It starts going down, down, down. Right now it’s almost zero.”

Levy said Rio organizers did not expect this level of concern over Zika, and he acknowledged that more people around the world are worried about it than Brazilians are. Several high-profile athletes cited it as their reason for withdrawing from the Olympics.

“We thought that there were too many people here in the States talking about Zika and this is too much. This is too much. Too many negative comments,” Levy said. “I think it was good for them to hear other voices.”

Levy was less optimistic about water pollution, saying Rio “failed” on its promise to clean 80 percent of it by the Olympics, which are set for Aug. 5-21. He said four of the five sites on the Guanabara Bay are tested daily for bacteria and will not pose any problems and left open the possibility of moving the other.

“The fifth area is closer to the shore and we’re testing that and depending on the rain and the wind sometimes good, sometimes not so good,” Levy said. “If closer to the games we see that this is not good enough, we’re going to change the location to further down the sea. We’re very committed to not put at risk any athlete during the competition.”

The Associated Press has reported that Guanabara Bay has shown astronomically high level of viruses for which the state is not testing.

Another issue is the political turmoil in the country. Levy is unsure about the upcoming vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, which likely will take place in August.

“We do pray for the impeachment vote to happen before the games,” Levy said. “If that prayer is not answered, we hope that (will) happen after the games. We asked the president personally about that, but he can’t control his congress and senate. We’re going to have to manage whatever happens. It would be ideal of that to happen before the Olympics.”

Levy said the subway is almost ready and that the light rail is having its soft opening. Because those modes of transportation are new and Brazil has never hosted an event of this magnitude.

“Security is, of course, part of the core of the agenda,” Levy said. “But I would say today the main issue for me is the combination of all that: How to make all that work simultaneously on the very first day. …. First day everybody’s watching. It’s going to have to work. That’s what worries me.”

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Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

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Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis and U.S. athlete Sandi Morris took turns attempting world records in the pole vault Wednesday at the Meeting d’Athlétsime Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais meet at Arena Stade Regional in Liévin, France, but both were unable to clear the bar.

Duplantis, aiming to set the world record for third time in February, had no misses leading up to his record attempts. U.S. vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has won the last two world championships, cleared 5.90m but dropped out after one attempt at 5.95m. Duplantis passed on that height, then cleared 6.07m to warm up for his shot at 6.19m, just shy of 20 feet, 3 3/4 inches.

Morris’ attempt to tie Jennifer Suhr‘s world indoor record of 5.03m from 2016 was more of a surprise. Morris holds the U.S. outdoor record at 5.00m but had never done better than 4.95m indoors. She won Wednesday’s competition with a clearance of 4.83m and asked to go immediately to 5.03m, or 16 feet, 6 inches.

Yelena Isinbayeva still holds the outdoor record of 5.06m, set in 2009. Morris is second on the all-time list and is the only athlete other than Isinbayeva or Suhr to clear 5 meters either indoors or outdoors.

In the men’s pole vault, Duplantis’ clearance of 6.18m Feb. 15 in Glasgow is the best vault indoors or outdoors.  Sergey Bubka still has the highest clearance outdoors at 6.14m. Bubka also held the indoor record of 6.15m for more than 20 years, finally losing it to Renaud Lavillenie in 2014. Duplantis cleared 6.17m Feb. 9 in Poland, then added another centimeter last week in Glasgow.

READ: Duplantis raises record in Glasgow

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Bubka are the only vaulters to clear 20 feet. Kendricks cleared 6.06m, or 19-10 1/2, last summer, the highest outdoor clearance by anyone other than Bubka.

Duplantis grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for one year, setting the NCAA indoor (5.92m) and outdoor (6.00m) before turning pro, though he was upset in the NCAA final by South Dakota junior Chris Nilsen.

Also at Wednesday’s meet:

Ronnie Baker ran 6.49 seconds in the 60m semifinals and lowered that to 6.44 in the final, second only to Christian Coleman this season. Demek Kemp finished second and tied his personal best of 6.50.

Nia Ali and Christina Clemons finished 1-2 in the women’s 60m hurdles with identical times of 7.92. Ali is the reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles. She also won world indoor titles in 2014 and 2016.

Two Ethiopian runners set the fastest times of the season Samuel Tefera in the 1,500m (3:35.54) and Getnet Wale in the 3,000m (7:32.80). Wale was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2019 world championships.

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, racing in his home country of France, won the 60m hurdles in 7.47, second this season to Grant Holloway‘s 7.38 last week.

The World Athletics Indoor Tour ends Friday in Madrid. The world indoor championships originally scheduled for March in Nanjing, China, have been postponed a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

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When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

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