Jan 25, 2022 - Sports

Olympians avoiding COVID at all costs ahead of Beijing Games

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

10 days out from the Olympics, athletes around the world are battening down the hatches in hopes of making it to Beijing COVID-free.

Why it matters: The Beijing bubble — a closed-loop system meant to shut off the outside world entirely — is the strictest ever created for a global sporting event.

  • Athletes must test negative twice within 96 hours of their flight, and again upon their arrival in Beijing.
  • A positive test will force them to either stay home or endure a lengthy isolation in China, so many of them are taking extreme measures to avoid that nightmare scenario.

State of play: Years of intense athletic training now boils down to one final test: dodging a virus.

  • Canada's men's curling team is spending three weeks sequestered in a Vancouver rental home, training only when the nearby rink is empty. "It's like a frat house without the booze," the team told NYT.
  • American snowboarders Shaun White and Chloe Kim skipped the X Games last weekend out of an abundance of caution.
  • Swiss snowboarder Patricia Kummer is currently quarantining for 21 days in a Beijing Holiday Inn, a consequence of her unvaccinated status (most Olympians are vaccinated, including 100% of Team USA).

The big picture: The modern Olympics have been around for 126 years. Never before have athletes spent the lead-up to the biggest event of their lives expending so much mental energy on a non-athletic endeavor.

  • Tokyo had similar stakes, but the highly-transmissible Omicron variant didn't exist last summer and Japan wasn't a "zero-COVID" country like China is.
  • Plus, six months after watching Coco Gauff, Bradley Beal and others have their Olympic dreams stripped away due to a positive test, the fear of enduring that same fate is more palpable.

The last word: "Everyone is testing positive right now, and that freaks me out," American luger Emily Sweeney told NYT.

Go deeper