US figure skating on Saturday announced that the women’s team will head to Beijing for the Winter Olympics next month. It will include the top rider who resigned from the Nashville National Championship this week following a positive coronavirus test, a stark reminder of a resurgent pandemic that is still capable of disrupting sporting events and lifelong dreams.
“Unfortunately, things are happening, but they are,” Alysa Liu wrote on social networks after her withdrawal on Friday. A strong performance on the international circuit last season, despite having to skip national races, helped her secure a place to compete in the Games. Skaters are selected to the Olympic team based on their work throughout the year – the US National Figure Skating Championships are not an Olympic test race, as is the case in some other sports.
Mariah Bell, a 25-year-old whose victory on Friday made her the oldest national singles champion after 95 years, and Karen Chen (22), a 2018 Olympian who finished second behind Bell, were also named to the women’s singles team.
Liu, 16, is among at least six skaters who tested positive this week and withdrew from national countries as the highly contagious Omicron variant is driving a new wave of infections around the world – just weeks before the Beijing Games are scheduled to begin. Many skaters have described that they have taken strict measures, including giving up private lessons on the rink, to avoid just such results.
Amber Glenn, another skater, tested positive and withdrew “with a heavy heart” from national competitions, losing her last chance to impress the Olympic selection committee. On Instagram, she described how she took measures such as social distancing and wearing K95 veils. She said she initially attributed early symptoms to nerves or allergies.
Brandon Frazier, who is the reigning national pair champion with Alex Knieri, had a positive test on Wednesday and withdrew from the competition. US figure skating will announce two teams of United States Olympic pairs on Sunday, and Frazier and Knierim have said they have asked to be selected for the Games.
However, it remains unclear how long it will take potential Olympians fighting the virus to feel good enough to skate again or start negative tests, which only increases uncertainty as many athletes prepare for an early trip to Beijing.
China has already announced sophisticated measures to protect against coronavirus that will hit its own population or the participants in the Winter Games, and to ensure that the two groups have almost no contact with each other. Last month, Chinese officials described in detail some of the strictest rules yet for their own citizens participating in the games.
Viewers who have already been confined to the people of China will be able to applaud, but not shout, in support of the athletes. Waiters, cleaners and other support staff will not be allowed to leave the Olympic plants with their families. And all Olympic participants who leave the immediate vicinity for other parts of China will have to spend at least one week in quarantine, followed by at least two weeks of isolation at home.
Foreign athletes, coaches, trainers, referees, journalists and several others will be limited to the “closed loop” of hotels and sports venues, connected by special buses and trains. Everyone will face daily PCR tests.
And yet Chinese officials have acknowledged that they were preparing for the inevitability of some infections at the Olympics.