U.S. Women’s Olympic Gymnastics Gold Rush May Be Tested By COVID
Posted On July 20, 2021
TOKYO – The biggest challenge of the Gold Rush for Simone Biles and American women comes before the competition even begins.
News that replacement Kara Eaker tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday following training camp with Biles and the rest of the Olympic team means there will be a nervous eye over test results the next days. Biles is the most important thing at the Tokyo Olympics, heavily favored to win, well, everything, and the American women are set to climb to a third straight tag team title.
They must, however, be able to compete.
If the past few days have reminded us of anything, it’s that the COVID pandemic is far from over, and being fully vaccinated doesn’t give someone an impenetrable shield. Eaker said after last month’s Olympic trials that she was fully vaccinated, yet the 18-year-old is now in quarantine, as is her training mate, Leanne Wong, who was seen as close contact.
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USA Gymnastics says its protocols at training camp created a barrier between substitutes and members of the Olympic team. The substitutes housed with substitutes, sat on the other side of the hall during meals and did not train on the same apparatus at the same time as the Olympians.
Masks were to be worn at all times, except when the athletes were eating, actively training or in their private rooms.
These protocols seemed to have worked, as Biles and the rest of the team – Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum, as well as individual contestants Jade Carey and MyKayla Skinner – weren’t forced to isolate themselves as close contacts. . The six women posted pictures of the Olympic Village as news of Eaker’s positive test broke, and did so again after their training session on Tuesday.
The competition starts on Sunday.
“The entire delegation continues to be vigilant and will maintain strict protocols while in Tokyo,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement on Monday.
But the delay between exposure and when someone can test positive means it will be a few days before Biles and the rest of the Olympic team are completely safe.
Given how risky COVID does everything, you have to be wondering exactly what USA Gymnastics was thinking as they had the substitutes train alongside the Olympic team. In recent Games, substitutes were dispatched to the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee training site or other location, and as close to the team as possible was when they watched the competition from the stands.
Yet USA Gymnastics has decided that now when the athletes can get a contract from the Olympics, it is the perfect time to treat the whole delegation like one big, happy family. Alternates and team members train together, eat together and stay at the same hotel – what could go wrong!
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Yes, the entire Olympic Women’s Gymnastics team is fully vaccinated and all athletes are tested daily. But as Eaker’s positive test shows, no precaution is too great to take, especially given the stakes.
If Biles defended her Olympic title – and given that she hasn’t lost an all-around since 2013, it’s a pretty good bet – she’ll be the first woman to do so in over 50 years. Biles will also be favored to win individual gold medals on vault, floor and beam, which would make her the first American woman to win five gold medals in a single match.
Lee will be a favorite to win gold on uneven bars, and the Americans are so deep they’re likely to win a second medal on vault, floor and beam. (It would be even more, but the International Gymnastics Federation only allows two gymnasts per country to participate in the individual finals.)
But, of course, go ahead and put it all at risk with a larger-than-necessary travel team.
This does not mean that any of the gymnasts are acting irresponsibly or not taking the protocols seriously. But the growing threat from the Delta variant, which is more contagious than other strains of COVID-19, means you could do everything right and still be infected.
Even if you are vaccinated.
As one of Tokyo’s top attractions, Biles and American women were ready for the world to be curious to know the smallest details about them. They were unaware that this would also include their COVID test results.
Follow USA TODAY Sports Columnist Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour.