‘I cry every day’: Olympic athletes slam food, COVID tests and conditions in Beijing quarantine hotels

  • A Polish short-track speedskater thought she was being released from isolation only to test positive a few hours later
  • US bobsledder, figure skater are among the athletes who have tested positive in Beijing
  • IOC says it has a support network to deal with athletes’ concerns

BEIJING – “My heart can’t take it,” emotionally crushed Polish speedskater Natalia Maliszewska wrote in an Instagram post.

“I’m very pale and I have huge black circles around my eyes. I want all this to end. I cry every day,” said Russian biathlete Valeria Vasnetsova on the same platform. “Unreasonable,” complained Dirk Schimmelpfennig, the head of the German delegation in an interview with his nation’s media.

All three were speaking out about the conditions they faced or observed in quarantine hotels in China used by athletes who test positive while at the 2022 Winter Olympics. They described “inedible meals,” little or no access to training equipment and a confusing and at times seemingly illogical COVID-19 testing regime.

Short track speedskater Maliszewska tested positive for coronavirus on Jan. 30, when she was ruled out of Saturday’s qualifying race for the 500 meters, her strongest event. But Maliszewska was unexpectedly released from isolation on the eve of the race, only to test positive a few hours before it started and was immediately ushered back into quarantine. The next day – Sunday, the day after the qualifying event – she was released after again testing negative.

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“I know a lot of people do not understand this situation. Positive and negative tests, tests confirming isolation, suddenly positive tests … Later, good results again,” Maliszewska wrote in Polish in her Instagram post, that she also posted on Twitter. It was translated into English by a Polish radio journalist named Mateusz Ligęza.

“I don’t understand it either,” she wrote. “I don’t believe in anything anymore. In no tests. No games. It’s a big joke for me.”

Three-time U.S. Olympic bobsled medalist Elana Meyers Taylor also tested positive after arriving in Beijing and had to isolate, but has since been cleared to compete. Meyers Taylor told USA TODAY Sports she did everything she could in her tiny room to prepare for the first monobob heats that begin Feb. 13. She did squats and lifted weights and sprinted from one end of the room to the other to mimic the start of a race.

U.S. Figure Skating announced Monday that Vincent Zhou, scheduled to skate the men’s short program Tuesday, tested positive on Sunday. It’s now unclear whether he will be able to compete.

‘I’ve lost a lot of weight and my bones are sticking out’

Several hundred athletes and Games participants have tested positive for coronavirus since Jan. 23, according to organizers, with more than 70,000 tests conducted Sunday. Anyone wanting to leave a quarantine hotel must return two negative PCR tests, 24 hours apart, and be free of symptoms.

Swiss snowboarder Patrizia Kummer works out in her hotel room in Beijing on Jan. 19 under a 21-day quarantine. Kummer, who won a gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, is unvaccinated against the coronavirus, so she spent 21 days in isolation in China before the Games.

Russia’s Vasnetsova used Instagram to complain about the food she received in her quarantine facility. On Feb. 3 she posted an image of what she claimed was “breakfast, lunch and dinner for five days already.” The photo consisted of some plain pasta, charred meat, an orange-looking sauce and no apparent vegetables.

“I’ve been getting this for breakfast, lunch and dinner for five days now. I’ve lost a lot of weight and my bones are sticking out. I can’t eat anything else, I don’t know anything about my corona tests,” Vasnetsova wrote in her Instagram post that has since been deleted but not before it circulated in Russian and international media. “I only sleep all day because I don’t even have the strength to get out of bed. I only eat three handfuls of pasta a day because it’s just impossible to eat the rest of the food,” she wrote.

Russian biathlon team spokesperson Sergei Averyanov later shared a photo of a new meal given to Vasnetsova, according to the Associated Press. The news agency said the photo appeared to contain a tray with salmon, cucumbers, sausages and yogurt. Vasnetsova said a stationary bike was also delivered to her.

IOC says it’s dealing with athletes’ concerns

In a press briefing with reporters on Monday, the International Olympic Committee’s sports director Kit McConnell said that the IOC has a “support network in place to deal with athletes’ concerns both individually and collectively.” He said that steps were being taken to address “individual circumstances which are still challenging” and that the IOC had been having calls with athletes who are not satisfied with the quarantine conditions.

However, McConnell also said that it was the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, not the IOC, that has “responsibility for dialogue with the hotels” where athletes and other Games’ participants are staying.

“We are in a process of addressing these problems,” said Shu’an Yang, vice president of Beijing’s organizing committee in Monday’s briefing, sitting next to McConnell.

But not everyone is feeling the improvements yet.

The coach of the Finland men’s ice hockey team on Sunday accused Beijing’s organizers of not respecting Marko Anttila’s human rights. Jukka Jalonena told media in a Zoom call that the 2004 NHL ninth-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks was “not getting good food” and was suffering with mental stress because of his isolation.

Antilla has been confined to his room for two weeks after testing positive when he landed in Beijing. He tested positive for coronavirus 18 days prior to leaving for China and produced several negative tests before he left, but the more sensitive tests used by Chinese health authorities have produced positive tests, Reuters reported.

“We know he’s fully healthy and ready to go and that’s why we think that China, for some reason, they won’t respect his human rights,” Jalonena said.

Still, Schimmelpfennig, the German delegation head who told Germany’s FAZ newspaper that Nordic combined star Eric Frenzel was being quarantined in “unreasonable” conditions and required a larger, more “hygienically clean” room and more regular food deliveries, said organizers acted quickly after his complaints.

“Now the athletes have a satisfying framework of conditions. They have bigger rooms now, working wifi, an exercise bike in the room so we have appropriate and satisfying conditions in a very difficult situation for the athletes,” he told reporters Monday.

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