Tokyo Olympics opening overshadowed by high-profile COVID cases: Kara Eaker, Coco Gauff, Katie Lou Samuelson

A barge carrying the Olympic rings crosses Tokyo Bay, July 19, 2021. The games are due to take place from July 23 to August 8, 2021. Photo credit: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Reuters Connect.

As more than 11,000 athletes descend upon the Olympic Village in Tokyo, the number of COVID-19 cases are rising. So far, about 60 cases have been reported among those tied to the Olympics. 

"The total number of positive cases linked with accredited personnel is 61. But it's important to look inside the numbers: Among the total, 33 are positive cases from residents of Japan, 28 are from the Olympic Committees arriving from overseas," Tokyo Games Organizing Committee spokesperson Masa Takaya said on Monday.

Major sponsor Toyota has pulled its TV ads in Japan, and locals are largely opposed to the country hosting the sports event. Meanwhile, the Olympics opening ceremony is set for Friday.

Expect more positive coronavirus cases at the Olympic Village and athletes riddled with unprecedented anxiety, says ESPN national reporter Michele Steele

“Think about all of the stress that occurs with training for a normal Olympics. Now on top of that, you have athletes who are bubbled, essentially athletes who are going to be put in isolation because either they're a close contact or … they are testing positive and we will get more positive tests,” Steele tells KCRW. “That is what IOC [International Olympic Committee] organizers expect over the coming days, just as a function of the 11,000 athletes who are going to be in that village.” 

Major U.S. athletes announced they’ve tested positive for COVID-19, including tennis player Coco Gauff, WNBA player Katie Lou Samuelson, and gymnast Kara Eaker. Eaker’s positive test has raised anxiety among the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, but Steele says so far, the team is still practicing and moving forward with participating in the games. She says there is currently no indication that star gymnast Simone Biles is in any danger. 

Steele explains that the fabric of this year’s Olympics will look different due to high-profile players, such as Serena and Venus Williams, opting out of the games. She says Serena did not travel to Tokyo because she was unable to bring her daughter. 

“You don't have your family there, you don't have your normal support network,” Steele says. “They're not allowed to travel with anybody else beyond the athletes, training, [and] staff coaches. She wanted to stay with her daughter at home.”

Despite the positive COVID cases at the Olympics so far, Steele says they represent an extremely small percentage of individuals on the ground.

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