BY ED MORAN
PHOTO BY LISA WORTHY
As in anything involving running an event during the Covid pandemic, there is a significant chance that something could happen that would cause an interruption, or that infections would turn up among either athletes or event participants and organizers.
And in the case of the first 2021 Olympic trials being run by USRowing in Sarasota, Fla., both of those things have happened ahead of the start of racing Monday morning.
On Saturday practice was suspended when 25 people were denied access to the venue at Nathan Benderson Park because they had not gotten their results from pre-arrival and travel testing in time, some due in part to weather related delivery problems.
And on Saturday night, pre-event testing conducted on site Friday returned two positive results.
In emails sent Saturday night, everyone connected to the event was notified of the results and it is apparent that none of the 120 athletes waiting to race were exposed. “No athletes have been identified as having high-risk contact through contact tracing,” the email stated.
Having two incidents develop before racing has even started, might seem alarming, but to Matt Imes, USRowing director of high performance and one of the people on point for seeing that the trails go as best they can, it is an indication that the plans they have put in place are working. Practice resumed Sunday and there is no current interruption to racing beginning Monday morning.
“We’ve spent weeks and weeks and hundreds of hours of planning in preparation to make this the safest event as possible that we can,” Imes said Sunday morning. “What we’re doing is exactly what we said we would do in the process of running this.”
According to Imes, the complete Covid mitigation plan for the event are posted in detail on USRowing’s trials coverage page. Those plans call for anyone arriving to the venue to practice before the weekend had to present proof of a positive test, that USRowing would conduct a pre-event test on Friday and should any associated individual test positive, contact tracing would be done.
So far, the planning has worked to keep the athletes, coaches, and event staff as safe as possible, Imes said.
According to Imes, the only interruption was a brief halt in practice Saturday. Imes said 25 people were unable to get the results from their pre-arrival to the venue tests and because they were not allowed to practice, it was determined that it would give an “unfair advantage” to those who were able to get results.
“There were people who could not practice because they had done what we asked them and had taken the test, and through no fault of their own, were not getting a test result. So, we decided not to let anyone go on the water.”
According to USRowing Covid plans, everyone involved in the event in anyway had to be on site for testing Friday. Those tests were conducted on the venue and the samples were hand delivered to a lab in New York City to ensure the results would be returned on time.
“People had to pre-test when we came down here, before we started the event, we ran everybody through a PCR test that they took on Friday morning,” Imes said. “We got those results last night and we are following the processes and procedures for those test results.
“Just like every event in every sport that’s going on, there are positive tests, and we’ve got positive. It’s really unfortunate. But we’re looking for the safety and welfare of everyone involved, and we’re putting the necessary resources around those people who have tested positive.
Imes said privacy laws do not allow him to identify who tested positive, or even what specific role they have at these trials. “These people were not symptomatic, they were fine and they the testing process caught this, which is what it is supposed to do.”
Imes said with everything about Covid, there is no predicting what will happen next, but he said he is confident everything is being done to keep everyone safe and hold a successful event.
“There is still a lot to go, we’ve still got seven days down here,” he said. “We’re still working through all of this and doing the best we can to keep this as safe and efficient an event as possible.
“Our goal is that we run a safe event, that has given every athlete here a fair opportunity for them to show their best speed. We’re doing everything we can. I believe how this was handled and how the athletes have been doing social distancing and stuff has been amazing,” he said.
“People are following the protocol, they’re wearing masks, they are keeping socially distant and that all helps. If someone turns up with symptoms and then there is positive contact tracing, everything could change in a five-minute span, from we’re really confident about running the event, to this event is being cancelled.
“That’s the world we live in now.”