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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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Cyclist in induced coma after Tour of Poland crash

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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

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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.”

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