‘It’s a big joke for me’: Olympics athletes say they’re starved for food, information

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Unhappy Olympic athletes are calling out organizers of the Beijing Games with a litany of complaints about everything from COVID-19 protocols to inadequate catering.

Some participants say the Games are not living up to the hype — especially considering how China promised the world a “streamlined, safe and most splendid Games.”

Quarantine complaints

Athletes who have tested positive for COVID-19 and must isolate have reported major issues with the quarantine conditions.

Team officials from Russia, Germany, and Belgium have all raised concerns about the so-called quarantine hotels set up by Chinese officials. They say their athletes are facing inadequate facilities, lack of internet connection, bad food and no training equipment.

Associated Press reporter John Leicester is held in Isolation Room 2, where he was kept while being re-tested for COVID-19 after testing positive at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022, in Beijing. AP Photo/Steve Moyes

China has gone to great lengths to keep the Games COVID-free, but some athletes say the country has gone too far.

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Last week, Belgian skeleton racer Kim Meylemans shared a video to her Instagram, explaining how she’d been shuffled around between isolation facilities, but wasn’t sure what would happen in the future.

“We are not even sure I will ever be allowed to return to the [Olympic] village,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “I’m not sure I can handle 14 more days and the Olympic competition while being in this isolation.”

Polish speed skater Natalia Maliszewska also said she was facing horrible conditions in an isolation ward after testing positive and missing her 500-metre short track event last Saturday.

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“Since a week I have been living in fear and these changes in mood,” she told The Guardian. “I cry until I have no more tears and make not only the people around me worry but myself too,” she said.

She told the newspaper that she was released back to the Olympic Village after she met the requirement of having two back-to-back COVID-19 tests return a negative result. But she was soon put back into isolation, with officials telling her there had been a mistake.

“People got me out of my room at 3 a.m.,” she said. “This night was a horror, I slept in my clothes in my bed because I was afraid that at any moment someone would take me back to isolation. Then a message that unfortunately they were mistaken, that I am a threat, and should not have been released from isolation.

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“I don’t believe in anything anymore. In no tests. No games. It’s a big joke for me,” she wrote on Twitter in Polish.

More than 350 Games participants, including dozens of athletes, have tested positive on arrival in the Chinese capital since Jan. 23. They are supposed to leave special quarantine hotels only once they are free of symptoms and test negative in two PCR tests 24 hours apart.

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On Sunday, Finland’s men’s ice hockey team coach, Jukka Jalonen, accused China of not respecting one of his player’s human rights while he was in isolation following a positive COVID-19 test, claiming hockey player Marko Anttila was “not getting food” and was under immense stress, according to Reuters.

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Workers in protective gear disinfect seats following the men’s freestyle skiing big air finals of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022, in Beijing. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

The Finnish team doctor said China forced Anttila, who tested positive 18 days earlier, to remain in isolation despite no longer being considered infectious.

Weather and uniform complaints

Meanwhile, other athletes have complained about being forced to compete in dismal and unsafe conditions.

Swedish officials have asked that the cross-country skiing events be held earlier in the day, after the women’s skiathlon event last Saturday was held in extreme temperatures.

Under the International Ski Federation rules, competitions must be suspended when temperatures dip below -20 C. However, during the time of the skiathlon, the windchill dropped to -31, and Swedish athlete Frida Karlsson was on the brink of collapse from the cold when she finished her race.

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Some athletes have resorted to applying sports tape to their faces in an effort to protect them from the bitter cold, reports HuffPost.

Frost covers a face shield of a volunteer before the start of the women’s 7.5km + 7.5km skiathlon cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

And, on Tuesday, five Olympic ski jumpers shared their discontent with how organizers have handled uniform approvals after they were disqualified from competition for wearing uniforms that were too baggy.

All of the women, representing Austria, Japan, Norway and Germany, were deemed to be wearing loose-fitting clothing that organizers said were “too big and offered an aerodynamic advantage,” reports The Today Show.

Norway’s Silje Opseth said she wore the same suit that she wore in the mixed competition two days earlier in the women’s normal hill event, but was not disqualified in the individual event.

She broke down in tears after learning of the disqualification, according to Reuters.

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“I think they checked it in a new way today compared to what they had done previously. I think it’s very strange that they would suddenly change how they do it in the middle of a tournament,” she said. “I don’t know what to say. I’m really just shaken. I’m sorry that I was disqualified today.”

Food complaints

“My stomach hurts, I’m very pale and I have huge black circles around my eyes. I want all this to end. I cry every day. I’m very tired,” Russian biathlon competitor Valeria Vasnetsova posted on Instagram from a quarantine hotel.

But she wasn’t complaining about her COVID-19 symptoms. Rather, she was complaining about the food.

Vasnetsova posted a picture last Thursday of what she said was “breakfast, lunch and dinner for five days already” — a tray with food including plain pasta, an orange sauce, charred meat on a bone, a few potatoes and no greens.

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She said she mostly survived on a few pieces of pasta because it was “impossible” to eat the rest, “but today I ate all the fat they serve instead of meat because I was very hungry.” She added she lost a lot of weight and “my bones are already sticking out.”

Vasnetsova hasn’t been the only one to complain about the food.

German skiing coach Christian Schweiger didn’t have positive things to say about the catering at the men’s downhill events. He told Reuters: “The catering is extremely questionable. I would have expected that the Olympic Committee is capable of providing hot meals.

“There are crisps, some nuts and chocolate and nothing else. This shows a lack of focus on high-performance sport.”

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What organizers are doing about it

The International Olympic Committee responded to the complaints in a statement earlier this week, reports The Washington Post.

“We are aware of the complaints raised by some athletes, particularly with regard to food temperature, variety and portion size,” the IOC said. “The issues are currently being addressed together with Beijing 2022 and the respective management of the facilities concerned.

With files from Reuters

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