US women’s gymnastics alternate tests positive for coronavirus in Tokyo
TOKYO — An alternate for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team tested positive for the coronavirus, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said Monday. The U.S. team includes six athletes who will compete here, plus four alternates.
Kara Eaker is the gymnast who tested positive, according to her coach and parents, who have confirmed her test result to multiple media outlets. Eaker, an 18-year-old from Grain Valley, Mo., said last month that she had been vaccinated.
“We are just incredibly thankful that we got her vaccinated, because everybody is telling us, all of the medical personnel are telling us, that that’s to her benefit,” Eaker’s mother, Katherine, told a Kansas City television station. “And so, if I say anything to anybody, it’s like, ‘Take this seriously.’ “
The Japanese local government for where the gymnasts trained for a few days after their arrival did not release the name of the gymnast who tested positive but said she is a teenager. The gymnast moved to a hotel to isolate, the USOPC said in a statement. One additional athlete is considered a close contact, and she is quarantining in her room, according to the local government. USA Gymnastics said in a statement that athlete is also an alternate.
The six-member squad, which is headlined by Simone Biles, has not been affected by a positive test or through contact tracing. All athletes will be tested daily, according to the health protocols for the Games. The women’s gymnastics competition in Tokyo begins Sunday with the qualification round. Alternates can replace gymnasts on the team if needed before the competition begins, but the positive test takes Eaker out of consideration.
“I feel bad for her because she’s trained most of her life for this,” Eaker’s father, Mark, said in the television interview. “And there was hope up to this point, even as an alternate. There’s always hope that you might get a chance to compete, so that keeps you going. It keeps you motivated. But now that this result has come back, that hope is gone.”
This is the first known coronavirus case among Team USA athletes who traveled to Tokyo for the Games, which begin later this week. The gymnast tested positive for the virus Sunday, according to USA Gymnastics. The team arrived in Japan three days prior.
“Accordingly, on Monday, the Olympic athletes moved to separate lodging accommodations and a separate training facility, as originally planned, and will continue their preparation for the Games,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement. “The entire delegation continues to be vigilant and will maintain strict protocols while they are in Tokyo.”
All six of the women’s artistic gymnasts set to represent the United States in Tokyo visited the Olympic Village on Monday evening, according to their social media posts. Biles, Jordan Chiles, Sunisa Lee, Grace McCallum and MyKayla Skinner appeared in those photos and videos together. Jade Carey, the sixth member of the squad, posted a picture in the Olympic Village with her father, who is also her coach.
However, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team will stay in a nearby hotel rather than in the Olympic Village, Cecile Landi, the coach of Biles and Chiles, confirmed on Twitter.
“It was also a decision that we all made together,” Landi wrote in a tweet. “We know it isn’t ideal for the Olympic experience but nothing is ideal during a pandemic. We feel like we can control the athletes and our safety better in a hotel setting!”
All four U.S. alternates - Eaker, Kayla DiCello, Emma Malabuyo and Leanne Wong - are teenagers. Wong, 17, said after last month’s Olympic trials that she had not been vaccinated, noting that her parents are scientists. Malabuyo has said she has been vaccinated, and DiCello’s father, Matt, said she has been as well.
Malabuyo and DiCello posted a video of them dancing together in their hotel Monday, indicating that they have not been affected through contact tracing. Wong shared an Instagram story Monday night that said, “Prayers for a speedy recovery for one of our teammates.”
Eaker is set to enroll at the University of Utah this fall, and Coach Tom Farden said in a statement: “We are devastated and heartbroken for Kara as she has worked extremely hard to become a part of Team USA in Tokyo. Unfortunately, the virus is still very present and can affect fully vaccinated individuals. We will support her in any capacity she may need with the many resources we have here at Utah.”
The U.S. squad includes a four-member team - Biles, Chiles, Lee and McCallum - that is heavily favored to win the gold medal, as well as Carey and Skinner, who will compete as individuals.
The six Olympians trained at the same facility as the alternates in recent days before moving to the hotel near the Olympic Village. The athletes were kept in “separate groups” during training, according to a USA Gymnastics spokesperson, but the gymnasts appeared in a photo practicing at the same time, with the team standing a few feet away from the alternates.
Alternates were paired with other alternates as roommates, and team members were kept with other team members. Since the positive test, all gymnasts have their own rooms. As they prepared for the Games, the alternates and the Olympic athletes ate on separate sides of a private dining room. The remaining alternates will now eat in separate rooms, the spokesperson said. The team members and their coaches also sat toward the front of the bus, with alternates and their coaches in the back.