The head of Norway’s Olympic training organization (Olympiatoppen) is angry and frustrated over how Chinese arrangers of the Winter Olympics in Beijing are handling Norwegian athletes’ health information. His complaints came even before confirmation on Thursday of exposure to the Corona virus within the Norwegian troop, and that one Norwegian gold medal candidate who feels fine had tested positive.
Tore Øvrebø, chief of Olympiatoppen, was not happy that the director of the hotel where Norwegian support staff are staying knew about the exposure and infection before he or others in the Norwegian troop did. “He’s a swell guy, but he (the hotel director) should not have had this information before we did,” said Øvrebø at a press meeting with Norwegian media in Zhangjikou, a few hours outside of Beijing.
That could only have happened, Øvrebø believes, if those in charge of testing athletes wrongly shared athletes’ health information. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the hotel director seemed to steadily have received advance information about the Corona status of the athletes, and that upset Øvrebø. “It doesn’t make us feel unsafe, but indicates that the handling of individual cases can be more sloppy than what we’d like,” he added, suggesting it was out of control.
“Things have not gone the way they should,” said Øvrebø, who met reporters shortly after it emerged that three members of Norway’s combined skiing and ski-jumping team had been defined as close contacts of an Estonian athlete who trains with them and had tested positive. Norwegian biathlon star Johannes Thingnes Bø was also defined as a close contact.
‘Worst day I’ve ever had…’
That’s sent all athletes involved into isolation, and then came news that Norway’s Jarl Magnus Riiber, a gold medal candidate in the combined sport, had in fact tested positive. That means Riiber, who’s logged eight World Cup victories so far this season, is now confined to his hotel room in China and may not be able to compete.
The team’s coach had to fight back tears while talking to Norwegian reporters Thursday (external link to NRK’s story, in Norwegian). “It’s the worst day I’ve ever had as a coach,” Ivar Stuan said after Riiber’s infection was confirmed. “He (Riiber) feels fine and was ready for the Olympics. Today he’s training in his hotel room.”
“This is very sad, of course,” said NRK commentator Torgeir Bjørn. He noted that several of Riiber’s teammates are now also defined as close contacts, meaning “they may wind up in a situation where we don’t have a team for the team competition either.” Jann Post, another commentator for NRK who specializes in cross-country skiing, described the situation as being “as far as you can get from the Olympic dream.”
Information ‘falling into the wrong hands’
Norway’s Olympic chief Øvrebø, meanwhile, was fuming over how infection information was “falling into the wrong hands” and being delivered too slowly to team officials. “We’re getting it later than we should and then we don’t get the full overview before we take steps to address the situation,” Øvrebø said. “We can’t take steps based on rumours, that creates unrest. It’s not professional and we can’t do our jobs in the proper manner.”
He said he didn’t know why the athletes’ health information was going astray. “We want to get (testing) answers as quickly as possible, so that we can do something about it,” Øvrebø said. “We think (the Chinese arrangers’ system) is too slow.”
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that its reporters in China had tried to get in contact with the organizers of Beijing 2022 and the International Olympic Committee regarding their Corona routines, but there was no immediate response to the Norwegian Olympic official’s complaints.