Bolt says he’ll out­run the Zika mozzies

CityPress - - Sport - MARIZANNE KOK sports@city­press.co.za

Usain Bolt says the Zika virus is not go­ing to keep him away from this year’s Olympic Games. “I am fast. The mos­qui­toes can’t catch me,” he said in an in­ter­view with To­day.com. It was a joke that not ev­ery­one found funny. Justin Gatlin will to­day be in Rio de Janeiro for a street race, and Rory McIl­roy said he felt safer re­gard­ing the virus af­ter he did some re­search about it. No mos­quito will stand be­tween these men and their Olympic dreams. By con­trast, a hand­ful of other po­ten­tial Olympians have al­ready de­cided not to take part out of fear of in­fec­tion. Golfers Marc Leish­man and Vi­jay Singh are stay­ing away be­cause of Zika. Amer­i­can cy­clist Te­jay van Garderen de­clared him­self un­avail­able be­cause he didn’t want to put his preg­nant wife in dan­ger. And Andy Mur­ray first wants to find out more about the pos­si­ble risks be­fore he makes his fi­nal de­ci­sion on whether he will de­fend his Olympic ti­tle in Au­gust. If the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are seen as the Ti­tanic of 2016, then the Zika virus is an ocean filled with ice­bergs. The wise men of the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion say the ship can­not be sunk by one of these ice­bergs, while a group of 150 health ex­perts say it’s an un­nec­es­sary gam­ble to even let the ship leave port. The 150 say it’s a dis­ease that can be spread to all cor­ners of the earth when the thou­sands who will have de­scended on Rio for the Games re­turn to their homes. A sin­gle mos­quito bite could lead to in­flam­ma­tion of the brain and spinal cord, Guil­lain-Barré syn­drome and ba­bies with se­ri­ous birth de­fects. Of course, no ath­lete needs to hear these kinds of things when they should re­ally only be wor­ry­ing about their readi­ness for the qua­dren­nial pageant. But the Rio or­gan­is­ers say no one needs to fret over a cou­ple of mos­quito bites. Ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble will be done to en­sure that the Olympic ath­lete’s vil­lage and all the venues are mos­quito-free. The peo­ple try­ing to al­lay the fears point out that the Games take place in Au­gust, Brazil’s cold­est month, when mos­qui­toes aren’t com­mon. They add that the prob­lem is at its fiercest in the north­east of Brazil (Rio is to­wards the south). The US’s Na­tional Cen­ter for Biotech­nol­ogy In­for­ma­tion used the world­wide spread of dengue fever in 2008 as a model to es­ti­mate that there could be any­thing from 1.8 cases of Zika per 1 mil­lion tourists to 3.2 per 100 000 due to the Olympic Games. Lancet re­ported that there were only 42 cases of Guil­lain-Barré syn­drome when two-thirds of French Poly­ne­sia’s 270 000 in­hab­i­tants were in­fected with the Zika virus in 2013. Ac­cord­ing to re­search, 80% of peo­ple who con­tract the dis­ease never ex­pe­ri­ence any con­se­quences. What this cam­ou­flages, how­ever, is the per­sonal risk to every in­di­vid­ual. The Zika virus has taken some lives. Even if the en­tire ship is not sunk, a pas­sen­ger or two could be lost. That’s what made the Leish­mans, Singhs and Van Garderens think twice. In ad­di­tion, the “Shoot the Mos­quito” cam­paign is not the only dark cloud hang­ing over Rio. Brazil’s pres­i­dent was im­peached last month and the coun­try is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing its big­gest po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in two decades. It is in the midst of a re­ces­sion and all the con­struc­tion for the Games has not yet been com­pleted. And then, of course, there’s the dop­ing cloud – some­thing the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee (IOC) is try­ing hard to sweep away. Last month it was re­vealed that cheaters had in­deed stood on the podi­ums in Bei­jing (in 2008) as well as Lon­don (2012). Thirty-one pos­i­tive re­sults were found when 454 sam­ples from the Bei­jing Games were retested and, among the 23 ath­letes who cheated at the Lon­don Games, ac­cord­ing to new dop­ing tests, were Turk­ish boxer Adem Kılıççı and the Rus­sian cy­clist Eka­te­rina Gnidenko. Both won Olympic gold in the Bri­tish cap­i­tal. This week, the IOC’s ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil de­cided to in­crease its bud­get for dop­ing tests be­fore the Games to $500 000 (R7.5 mil­lion). They will set their sights on, es­pe­cially, ath­letes from Rus­sia, Kenya and Mex­ico and will retest the urine sam­ples of more of the medal win­ners in 2008 and 2012 for pro­hib­ited sub­stances. “We want to make sure that all of the ath­letes who test pos­i­tive are kept away from Rio. That’s our main pri­or­ity,” said IOC spokesper­son Mark Adams, ac­cord­ing to USA To­day. The Games will still take place, says the IOC – not­with­stand­ing mos­qui­toes, dop­ers and po­lit­i­cal dra­mas. But of course, this doesn’t do much to si­lence the prophets of doom.

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