Team GB athletes ‘in a panic’ before Olympics after teammates isolate

  • Six athletes given dispensation to train alone in Yokohama
  • Daniel Rowden: ‘There’s a fear the same could happen to us’

Several Team GB athletes have spoken of their panic and trepidation after six of their teammates were forced to self-isolate after a passenger on their flight to Tokyo tested positive for Covid.

The six athletes were granted dispensation to train alone in the team’s camp in Yokohama on Monday, after displaying no symptoms and passing a PCR test, and the hope among the team is that they will be back to full training on Tuesday.

But the British 800m runner Daniel Rowden admitted that the news had left many in the team “in a little bit of a panic” as they wondered if they might be next.

“To be locked in a room and not be able to train takes away from your confidence, takes away from your preparation,” he said. “And then also there’s a bit of fear that the same thing could happen to us. Those athletes were on the flight the day before us, so there’s a little bit of trepidation that the same thing could happen to people on our flight as well.”

Rowden said British athletes had been eating on a table of four or two but there were big pyrex dividers. “It’s a permanent reminder that there’s this close contact separation between all of us,” he said.

However, the middle-distance runner, who is an outsider for an 800m medal in Tokyo, said it was right for the Games to go ahead. “People have worked very hard for the last five years to come here. And it’s also a celebration of different cultures, different parts of the world, but also a celebration of sport. We saw what the Euros did for our country in terms of lifting the mood. The Olympics does that for a lot of countries around the world.”

Meanwhile the British sprinter Richard Kilty said the possibility of being found to have a close Covid contact was on everyone’s mind with the Games only four days away. “There is always the worry that you could randomly be pinged for whatever reason, or came into contact with someone, and you don’t get a chance to train or compete,” he said. “If someone was to come and miss out on their individual event this close to the Games, it’d be heartbreaking for anybody. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

The thin line faced by athletes was illustrated again on Monday when the Czech beach volleyball player Ondrej Perusic became the third athlete to test positive in the Olympic village in Tokyo. He is set to miss his first match of the tournament next Monday, although officials on the Czech team are frantically trying to get his match moved. A teenage female US gymnast, who was not part of the main team, has also tested positive for Covid.

However the British 200m runner Beth Dobbin said she felt safe and secure in the team’s camp in Yokohama. “You wouldn’t believe how strict it is here,” she said. “I’ve never experienced anything like it. If I caught Covid here, I’d just be so shocked because the only person I’m close to is my roommate and the physio at the track. That is it. We’re literally so isolated.”

Beth Dobbin, seen here at the European Championships in May.
Beth Dobbin, seen here at the European Championships in May. Photograph: Łukasz Kalinowski/Shutterstock

Instead of worrying about the Covid-19 restrictions in Tokyo or the risk of contracting the virus during their time there, some Olympic boxers have simply seen their current environment as an opportunity. “It is what is,” said Pat McCormack. “Obviously, you can’t really get sidetracked outside of the hotel because you can’t leave, so it’s probably going to work out better for us.”

McCormack’s twin brother, Luke, agreed that the lack of distractions makes it easier to focus entirely on their competition:. “If we were allowed to do whatever we want in Tokyo, after we finish training at six o’clock we would be off. It’s worked out better for us really. You cannot make no mistakes. When you come over here, there is a lot of stuff to do that could sidetrack you on your boxing. Even just, when you’re in the hotel all night you’re going to bed early, you’re eating right, you’re doing everything right.”

Caroline Dubois, one of Britain’s best young boxing prospects, also noted the benefits of being able to focus entirely on competing and she stressed the importance of taking positives from all situations: “At the end of the day we’re here for the Olympic Games. We’re here to do a job. And we’re just staying focused. We’ve all got our morale up and keeping each other motivated. I just can’t wait for the boxing to start.”


Sean Ingle in Tokyo, and Tumaini Carayol

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