World champion pole vaulter out with COVID in pandemic-hit games

Organisers report 24 new games-related COVID-19 cases, including three athletes, bringing the total to 193 since July 1.

Tokyo continues to be placed in a state of emergency with coronavirus infections at a record high, prompting the country's top medical adviser to call on the government on Thursday to send a 'clearer, stronger message' about growing risks, including to the medical system [Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters]

American double world champion pole vaulter Sam Kendricks has been ruled out of competition in Tokyo after testing positive for COVID-19, according to the athlete’s father, as the pandemic continues to beset the Summer Olympics, with almost 200 athletes and officials now confirmed with the virus.

“Today in Tokyo officials informed Sam that his daily test was positive so he is out of the competition,” he tweeted. “He feels fine and has no symptoms.”

United States athletics officials are yet to confirm the news.

Kendricks won the world title in 2017 and 2019 and Olympic bronze at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

His battle with world record holder Mondo Duplantis of Sweden was expected to be one of the highlights of the athletics programme, which begins on Friday.

It is unclear where Kendricks contracted the coronavirus, although several athletes and sports officials have been confirmed to have the virus within the Olympic village.

Also on Thursday, Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya said the two people linked to the games who came from overseas and tested positive for COVID-19 had been hospitalised.

He said neither case was serious, although they are the first to be warded with COVID-19 at the pandemic-hit games, which is in its sixth day of competition and continues until August 8.

Organisers declined to provide further details on the two cases citing privacy concerns.

Athletes and other attendees have flooded into Tokyo from around the world and are subject to a strict testing regime to identify and isolate positive cases.

Organisers on Thursday announced 24 new games-related COVID-19 cases, including three athletes, bringing the total to 193 since July 1.

Australia’s ABC News also reported on Thursday that the country’s track and field athletes are isolating in their rooms as a precautionary measure following the report on Kendricks’ positive test result.

Anyone confirmed with the virus is required to undergo 14-day quarantine, which would make it impossible for affected athletes to participate in their events.


Record cases in Tokyo

The latest Olympic-related cases come amid record-high cases in Tokyo.

The Japanese capital is under a state of emergency and Japan’s top medical adviser on Thursday called on the government to send a “clearer, stronger message” about growing risks, including to the medical system.

On Wednesday, the Olympic host city recorded 3,177 new COVID-19 cases, a record daily high for the second day in a row as a spike in infections puts pressure on hospitals. Nationwide, new cases topped 9,500 for the first time, media reported.

“The biggest crisis is that society does not share a sense of risk,” top medical adviser Shigeru Omi told a parliamentary panel. “The numbers [for Tokyo] surpassed 3,000 and this may have some announcement effect. Without missing this chance, I want the government to send a stronger, clearer message.”

The spike in cases adds to worries about the games, which are taking place under unprecedented conditions, including a ban on spectators in most venues.

The surge also spells trouble for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, whose support ratings are at their lowest since he took office last September, ahead of a ruling party leadership race and a general election this year.

Kendricks won the world title in 2017 and 2019 and Olympic bronze in Rio 2016 [File: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports via Reuters]

Omi said vaccinations would help contain the virus, but many more factors threatened to cause further rises in infections, including the prevalence of the highly transmissible Delta variant, weariness about restrictions, and the Olympics itself.

Only 26.5 percent of residents of Japan are fully vaccinated and the rollout has hit supply snags recently.

Many Japanese are worried the influx of athletes and officials for the games will add to the surge, while experts have warned that holding the high-profile sports event sends a confusing message about the need to stay home.

Olympic athletes, staff and media must follow strict rules, including frequent testing to prevent any spread of the virus from inside an “Olympic bubble”.

Tokyo is under its fourth state of emergency, but the mostly voluntary measures have proven less effective than in the past.

The COVID-19 restrictions in Tokyo mean fans are banned from almost all Olympic venues. And even among the lucky few with a golden ticket, some are less than keen to attend.

Michio Miura and his wife Mayumi wavered right up until the last minute on whether they should take advantage of having some of the few seats available for cycling in Shizuoka, southwest of Tokyo.

Like many, they were worried about virus risks.

“If we caught coronavirus, it would cast a real shadow over the Games,” said Mayumi, who – unlike many in Japan – favoured the Olympics going ahead despite the pandemic.

“In the end, we decided to come because it seemed that there wouldn’t be many people and there wouldn’t be much risk, given it’s held outdoors,” she added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies