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No internet, bad food and dirty rooms: Olympic athletes struggle in COVID quarantine

A health worker collects swab samples to test for COVID-19 from a participant of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games.
A health worker collects swab samples to test for COVID-19 from a participant of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games.

BEIJING — Olympic athletes who test positive for COVID-19 and forced to isolate in Beijing are reporting serious issues with their quarantine conditions.

Team officials from Germany, Belgium, and Russia said their athletes are facing nightmarish situations, like poor to no internet connection, bad food, and no training equipment, in the so-called quarantine hotels set up by Chinese officials.

No access to fitness equipment or struggling to communicate with their teams are especially problematic for athletes trying to stay in tip-top shape before they compete.

"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.

Her account has since gone private.

Vasnetsova, who missed her competition, said she received pasta, orange sauce, meat, and potatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for five days straight.

Germany's Eric Frenzel, a three-time gold medalist in Nordic combined, also tested positive. Dirk Schimmelpfennig, the head of Germany's delegation, said the hotel conditions for him were "unreasonable." The rooms were too small, unhygienic, and food deliveries didn't come often enough.

Athletes are stuck in these isolation facilities until they test negative with two consecutive PCR tests. Only then can they be released and reenter the Olympic Village to train with their teams and to compete.

Belgian skeleton racer Kim Meylemans also tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Beijing.

In a series of Instagram posts, Meylemans tearfully shared details of her confusing situation that unfolded after being taken away for quarantine.

After testing negative, she thought she was being returned to the Olympic Village in Yanqing. Instead, she boarded an ambulance that brought her to another isolation facility entirely.

It left her devastated, confused, and scared.

After these very public complaints, Olympic organizers scrambled to fix the problems.

Only directly addressing the Frenzel situation, Christophe Dubi, the Olympic Games executive director, said Sunday, "That should have never happened."

Dubi said he and other organizers are working to tackle any problems isolating athletes and their teams face.

"Every time there is an issue we have a very good network to relay info and address the problem as swiftly as we can," he said. "It's very unfortunate it affected an athlete."

Russia's delegation reported Vasnetsova's meals have vastly improved.

On Sunday, Schimmelpfennig said organizers had responded quickly to their concerns for Frenzel.

Meylemans has since returned to the Olympic Village in Yanqing — still under quarantine but now closer to her team.

"I am now in a wing that's just isolation, but at least I'm back in the village," Meylemans told the Associated Press. "I feel safe and I'll be able to train a little better here."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jaclyn Diaz
Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.