U.S. Figure Skating’s COVID super-spreader event never needed to happen
Now top athletes are sick, with Olympic dreams up in the air.
At some point between the five cancelled flights and booking a rental car to drive to Nashville, Tennessee for U.S. Figure Skating nationals, someone should have called Jason Brown and been like, “Bro. You’re good. There’s an Olympic spot for you. You’re ranked #2 in the world. You have the best men’s short program we’ve seen in ages. You’ve earned it. Stay in Toronto where you train. Just don’t get COVID, and we’ll see you in Beijing.”
Instead, they made him show up. They made him show up to a competition where, by day two of competition, top competitors and expected Olympians in pairs and ladies had picked up positive tests.
Fans have been demanding the federation cancel the event since it became obvious that Omicron was going to spread rapidly and effectively throughout the U.S. this month. Instead, U.S. officials decided to hold a super-spreader event with less than 30 days to go before Olympic figure skating begins.
And the thing is, they didn’t even have to. Anyone who has watched the last four years of American figure skating knew who the team was already. This isn’t like past nationals where there were tight races and uncertainty about who might become an Olympian. Yeah, there might be one surprise dance result at nationals but the Olympic team decision was always supposed to be made based on “body of work,” not one competition.
None of this needed to happen, but it is happening. And at every point, every positive test, U.S. Figure Skating has decided to keep the event running. As a result, the highest-potential ladies figure skater the country has seen in a decade has COVID, a likely ladies alternate has COVID, and the entire ladies field was exposed to COVID. (And probably all of the other skaters in all of the other disciplines were too but for the sake of this blog post not becoming a novel, let’s just look at ladies.)
The U.S. has three ladies spots for the Olympics. The top ladies skaters are Alysa Liu, Mariah Bell and Karen Chen. Alysa Liu tested positive today. Typically there are two alternates named. Prior to nationals, those alternates would likely have been Amber Glenn and Audrey Shin. Amber Glenn tested positive today. Gabbie Izzo had a great competition and probably has earned herself an alternate spot after nationals.
Olympic officials require skaters to have negative PCR tests both 96 (four days) and 72 hours (three days) before flying to Beijing. The first Olympic figure skating competition begins February 4. People typically test positive for five to eight days, but PCR tests can show positive results for up to six weeks after infection.
There’s not a deep bench of skaters — in ladies or any discipline — in the U.S., and based on the rate of Omicron spread and exposure in Nashville, six skaters doesn’t even feel like enough to safely have a full ladies team in Beijing.
U.S. Figure Skating has proven time and time again that they do not care about their athletes’ health and safety. They brush aside abuse and eating disorders and athletes who are encouraged to skate while physically injured. So it didn’t really surprise me when they never seemed to care if their athletes got COVID. Pairs skater Ashley Cain-Gribble contracted the virus in August and now — five months later— has to use an inhaler and take a daily steroid.
But I guess I kind of thought they cared about the Olympics? Thought they wouldn’t want to risk a pretty darn good chance at Men’s Olympic gold, another dance medal and a potential team silver medal. Thought they’d want the boost in interest and, yes, money that comes with good Olympic performances from U.S. skaters. But apparently not even that matters.
As a direct result of U.S. Nationals, there is more uncertainty than ever about who the U.S. Olympic figure skating team will be.