New path to Olympic glory: Test, trace, isolate

Test, trace, isolate — this is the running theme of Tokyo 2020.

For everyone staying at the Games Village, a bio bubble for athletes, support staff, and officials in Tokyo’s Harumi district, the day starts at 7 am with a mandatory self-administered antigen test. A positive result means a follow-up, more accurate PCR test, then a trip to the fever clinic.

If the result of the antigen test is negative, it’s time to get on with it.

With more than 18,000 people to be tested every day, the availability of antigen test kits and collection of samples have become the first causes of worry, as stocks and capacities are running out even though only a fraction of the medal hopefuls from 206 different countries have reached the city. And, even before the Games begin, some are heading back.

The Olympics trip turned out to be a cruel experience for Dutch skateboarder Candy Jacobs. She tested positive on Wednesday morning for Covid-19, and had to withdraw from the Games. She was asymptomatic.

“Unfortunately, I tested positive for this morning, which means my Olympic journey ends here. I am feeling healthy and have done everything in my power to prevent this scenario and took all the precautions. Luckily, we’ve been following the protocols so my fellow skateboarders still get to shine bright,” Jacobs wrote on Instagram. “I will need some time to let my broken heart heal and recover from this.”

Skateboarding is making its debut in the Tokyo Games.

What Jacobs went through will be on the minds of all athletes in the coming days. Not only can years of training come to nought if they test positive themselves, they could also miss out if they are “close contacts” of someone else who tested positive.

“It is a concern at the moment but we are trying to stay safe and follow all the protocols,” said Srihari Nataraj, who will compete in 100m backstroke, and is the first swimmer from India to make the cut by hitting the “A” qualifying mark.

Village infections rise

The total number of Games-related infections closed in on 80 on Wednesday, but most worrying was the virus finding its way to the Olympic Village. Along with Jacobs, Czech table tennis player Pavel iruček also tested positive, making it the eighth case in the enclave for contingents. Earlier, three players from the South African football team, a US gymnast, a member of Czech delegation, and a volunteer tested positive in the Village. The entire 21-member South African men’s football team has been isolated.

Srihari and other athletes who traveled from India had to go through a rigorous testing regime. They passed seven tests in seven days before their departure, as advised by the Tokyo Organizing Committee since India is listed as a high-risk nation. There is a three-day quarantine for athletes, and they are allowed to enter the Games Village only five days before their events.

“Testing is something that we have got used to now,” said boxer Amit Panghal, before leaving for the Games. “You can’t do much about it but just hope that luck is on your side. If you think too much, your performance will be affected.”

For many of the athletes now in Japan, the past 18 months have been full of apprehension and ambiguity. They had to contend with almost all sporting events coming to a halt across the world, lockdowns with various degrees of severity, closed training venues, and the possibility that the Olympics may not happen at all.

Several have spoken of having to overcome mental health issues.

Now that they are here for the Games, they have to confront the reality that it may still end for them before they get a chance to take the stage — a moment they have trained so many years for — in the only Olympic games to be held in an odd-numbered year.

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