Olympian moved to village after tearful video in isolation
Kim Meylemans thought she was going to the Olympic Village. She ended up crying instead.
Such was the start of a puzzling few hours for the female skeleton athlete from Belgium – whose journey in what would have been a second round of isolation underscored the fears many had about the Beijing Olympics and what which happens after a person has tested positive for COVID-19.
Her story went like this: Testing positive upon arrival in Beijing led to a three-day stay in solitary confinement, which she said ended on Wednesday after returning several negative tests. But when the ambulance she thought was taking her to the village drove past, panic set in because Meylemans didn’t know what was going on.
A tearful social media post immediately caught the eye and hours later Meylemans was rushed to the village.
“I am now in a wing which is only isolation, but at least I am back in the village,” Meylemans said on Thursday. “I feel safe and I will be able to train a bit better here.”
The scenario is one that has many wondering if coming to the Beijing Games is worth it, with isolation – and for an indefinite period – a very real possibility for anyone who tests positive in China, where zero tolerance for coronavirus is the rule.
“It’s so confusing,” American bobsledder Kaillie Humphries said of all the unknowns surrounding the consequences of testing positive. ” It is very frustrating. It’s scary.”
Meylemans’ story, at least this chapter, has a happy ending. She is where she wants to be and is expected to be on the women’s skeleton court on February 12. She has a reasonable chance of contending for a medal if she slides well.
The International Olympic Committee said her brief trip to a second isolation facility was due to simple logistics, that no rooms in the village were ready for her. Others, like athlete advocate Rob Koehler, believe his social media post helped his cause.
“Of course we are concerned,” said Koehler, chief executive of athlete advocacy group Global Athlete. “We are concerned about the whole COVID-19 protocol. We’re worried about quarantine facilities and we’re worried about anything that’s not released, which is the details, and the devil is always in the details. They weren’t well informed and it wasn’t transparent.
Meylemans exposed his confusion to the world on Wednesday, his face and eyes red from crying, his words doing nothing to hide his fear and frustration at the unknown. She will still need tests twice a day for a week before she can leave the village isolation wing.
“Our main goal was to get Kim to the Yanqing Olympic Village as soon as possible,” Belgian Olympic delegation leader Olav Spahl said. “So we are very happy that this has now been successfully achieved. We understand that COVID measures are necessary to keep Games participants safe and healthy, but we believe the athlete should always be at the center of such an approach.
IOC member Juan-Antonio Samaranch, who heads the committee overseeing preparations for the Beijing Games, told fellow members on Thursday that “the quality of isolation centers has improved significantly” and that other improvements are still needed.
“Relieved to hear that Kim Meylemans is now in the Olympic Village,” IOC spokesman Christian Klaue tweeted. “We are pleased that all efforts have led to the successful resolution of this situation.”
Meylemans is considered a “close contact” by the IOC, meaning she can train and compete while living in the Olympic Village but must be in one room, transported by herself and eat on her own.
“As there was no room directly available, she was temporarily accommodated in a hotel close to the Olympic Village. This is a dedicated facility for close contacts so that they meet all the criteria to continue training and to compete,” the IOC said.
Humphries can relate to some of what Meylemans feels. She tested positive for COVID-19 last month and is staying at a hotel until fully cleared. She can train — teammate Kaysha Love had to sign a waiver just to be with Humphries for those on-ice sessions — but won’t be allowed in the Olympic Village until next week and will miss Friday’s Opening Ceremony .
Humphries nearly missed a practice session earlier this week because his cab got stuck in traffic. Another American bobsledder, Elana Meyers Taylor – like Humphries, someone who could be a serious medal contender – remains in isolation after testing positive, although she still has hopes of competing in both of her events.
“It was very difficult,” Humphries said.
Meylemans finished 14th in her Olympic debut in Pyeongchang in 2018. She has medaled in World Cup races this season, a bronze medal, and placed at least sixth in five of the last six races on the circuit this season.
Official training for the women’s skeleton begins next week. At one point on Wednesday, Meylemans’ competitive plans looked doubtful. By early Thursday, the outlook was considerably better and Meylemans said she was grateful for the support her tearful message generated.
She said she plans to respond to every message, which will take some time.
“Luckily,” she wrote, “I still have plenty of time in solitary.”
AP national writer Eddie Pells and AP sportswriter Graham Dunbar contributed to this report.
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