American bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor flew to Beijing last week with her sights set on finally winning her first Olympic gold.
But instead of settling in and training for the 2022 Winter Games, the 37-year-old is stuck alone in a hotel room following a positive test for Covid-19 two days after her arrival in the Chinese capital.
“I am asymptomatic and currently at an isolation hotel, and yes I am completely isolated,” the three-time Olympic medalist said in a social media post Tuesday.
Taylor, who won two silvers and a bronze at previous Olympics, is a two-time women’s bobsled world and overall World Cup champion. And she just ranked No. 1 in both the women’s monobob and the two-women’s bobsled World Cup series.
She traveled to Beijing with her nearly 2-year-old son, Nico, and her husband, Nic Taylor, who is an alternate bobsledder for Team USA.
At her fourth Olympics, Taylor had hoped to stand on the podium with her son in her arms. Now, it’s uncertain if she will be able to take part in the Games – but she is keeping her hopes up.
“Getting to the Olympics is never easy, and this time, as a new mom, it has been the most challenging, but also, incredibly rewarding, to be able to show that it can still be done,” Taylor wrote on Instagram.
“It’s been an incredible wave of positivity that I’ve been riding to a while so I’m going to continue to do that. This is just the latest obstacle that my family and I have faced on this journey, so I’m remaining optimistic that I’ll be able to recover quickly and still have the opportunity to compete.”
The bobsled events don’t start until February 13, but Taylor will need to return two consecutive negative tests before that if she is to compete.
Other athletes are facing a tighter deadline.
Hong Kong skier Audrey King has just eight days to return to the Games from isolation before her women’s slalom alpine skiing event starts. The 19-year-old tested positive Monday on arrival at the Beijing Capital International Airport.
“I’m currently in a Beijing quarantine hotel, because today I found out that I tested positive,” King said on Instagram Monday, after arriving from a training camp in Bosnia.
“But I hope I can quickly test negative, because I feel fine and my body feels healthy,” she said as she paced around her hotel room, her Olympic accreditation around her neck.
King’s coach Marko Rudic and her teammate Adrian Yung were identified as close contacts and tested negative at the airport, the Hong Kong Sports Federation and Olympic Committee said in a statement. Both are in quarantine and will have to conduct PCR tests every 12 hours for seven consecutive days, the committee said.
King is one of 67 athletes and team officials who have tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving in Beijing since Saturday. The majority of them tested positive at the airport, while 13 were found positive during daily testing in the bubble.
Olympic dreams dashed
With Friday’s opening ceremony just days away, some athletes who tested positive have already given up hope of competing.
Russian biathlete Valeria Vasnetsova said her Olympic ambitions were over after testing positive twice following her arrival in Beijing, one of three Russian positive tests reported Monday.
“Unfortunately, my Olympic dream will remain just a dream,” Vasnetsova wrote on social media. “Maybe one day I will find the strength to rise again but it will be a completely different story.”
Facing the threat of the highly infectious Omicron variant, Beijing – which is holding fast to its zero-Covid policy to eliminate the virus – is not taking any chances. To limit the spread of infection, it is holding the entire Winter Games inside what authorities have called a “closed loop system” – a bubble completely cut off from the rest of the capital and its wider population.
Inside the bubble, anyone who tests positive will be immediately removed from the Games. Those who are symptomatic will be sent to a designated hospital for treatment, while asymptomatic cases will be taken to an isolation facility. They won’t be allowed to return to the bubble until all symptoms disappear and they test negative twice in a row.
Since January 23, 200 Olympic-related arrivals have tested positive, including 52 cases inside the “closed loop,” according to Games organizers.
Initially, the Beijing organizers used stricter than usual PCR tests that returned a positive result at a cycle threshold (CT) value of 40, while many countries and sporting events use values between 30 and 35. The higher the CT value, the less infectious a person is.
Last week, Beijing lowered the CT value for positive tests to 35, bringing the new threshold in line with international standards. According to the new rules, a PCR test with a CT value between 35 and 40 will be considered a “threshold positive” result. Instead of being sent to isolation, these cases will be managed as a close contact for seven days, during which they’ll be tested twice a day.
Under the new rules, a participant can be discharged from isolation if they tested negative on two consecutive days, or if their CT values are greater or equal to 35 for three consecutive days.
Some athletes tested positive for Covid before they could depart for Beijing. To travel to the Games, participants must obtain two negative tests, conducted 96 hours and 72 hours before departure.
American bobsledder Josh Williamson said last Wednesday he had tested positive, preventing him from getting on the flight to Beijing with the rest of Team USA the next day.
And on January 24, the Hungarian Skating Federation said short track speed skating Olympic champion Liu Shaoang had tested positive, despite having isolated in a hotel for days with the national team, China’s state news agency Xinhua reported.
Additional reporting by Reuters.