TOKYO — An unnamed alternate for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team has tested positive for the coronavirus – but it’s not clear what, if anything, that means for the rest of the team, including superstar Simone Biles.
“We can confirm that an alternate on the women’s artistic gymnastics team tested positive for COVID-19,” the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee said in a statement to NPR. “In alignment with local rules and protocols, the athlete has been transferred to a hotel to quarantine. Out of respect for the individual’s privacy, we cannot provide more information at this time.”
The U.S. women’s team has four alternates: Kayla DiCello, Kara Eaker, Emma Malabuyo and Leanne Wong.
It’s the latest setback in an Olympics already delayed by a year because of the global pandemic. As thousands of athletes, journalists and others stream into Japan, a number of people have tested positive despite strict coronavirus testing and health protocols.
Olympic organizers said Sunday that four athletes have already tested positive for the virus while in quarantine in Japan.
The alternates have reportedly been training separately from the team, though the USOPC did not immediately confirm that detail. It also did not immediately respond to a question about whether any members of the team would potentially be considered close contacts of the person who tested positive.
The positive test was first reported by Japan’s Kyodo News agency. It said the city of Inzai said the gymnast tested positive at a pre-event training camp in the city.
Biles is slated to compete with three other gymnasts in the team event: Jordan Chiles, Sunisa Lee and Grace McCallum. Two other event specialists, Jade Carey and MyKayla Skinner, are also part of the squad.
The women’s qualifying event is set to begin on Sunday July 25, two days after the Opening Ceremony. The women’s team final is scheduled for July 27, and the all-around individual final is later that week on July 29.
It’s not clear what the result could mean for any other U.S. gymnasts.
The COVID-19 protocols for the Games seem to leave the door open for athletes to continue to compete even if they are a close contact of someone with a positive test. It’s decided on a case-by-case basis. In order to be allowed to compete, they’ll need to maintain negative tests every day for a period to be decided by the Results Advisory Expert Group, the group charged with managing close contacts of positive cases.
If they are allowed to compete, stricter-than-usual protocols might be implemented, such as “moving to a private room, eating meals alone, using dedicated vehicles, or separation during training and at your competition venue,” according to the athlete’s playbook.
Japanese health authorities and the sport’s governing body must agree with whatever decision is made, the playbook states.
An athlete who is not allowed to compete could be replaced by an alternate in individual and team events.