US Olympic officials deny split over jab-shy swim star

In this file photo taken July 20, 2019 US Michael Andrew competes in a heat for the men’s 50m butterfly event during the swimming competition at the 2019 World Championships at Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Centre in Gwangju, South Korea. — AFP pic
In this file photo taken July 20, 2019 US Michael Andrew competes in a heat for the men’s 50m butterfly event during the swimming competition at the 2019 World Championships at Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Centre in Gwangju, South Korea. — AFP pic

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TOKYO, July 22 — US Olympic officials today defended maverick swimmer Michael Andrew’s refusal to receive a coronavirus vaccination for the Tokyo Games, denying it had caused a rift among the American team.

Andrew, 22, has been outspoken about rejecting Covid-19 jabs, telling reporters last month he “didn’t want to put anything in my body that I didn’t know how I would potentially react to”.

He also declared in an interview last week that “as an American, I’m representing my country in multiple ways (including) the freedoms we have to make a decision like that”.

Andrew’s stance has drawn criticism from retired US swim star Maya DiRado, who said her compatriot was putting his own beliefs before the health of his teammates.

“That Michael would make a decision that puts even a bit of risk on his teammates for his own perceived wellbeing frustrates me,” DiRado, a two-time gold medallist at the 2016 Rio Games, wrote on social media.

The US swim team men’s head coach Dave Durden said he had no issues with the decision taken by Andrew, who qualified for his first Olympics in the 50m freestyle, 100m breaststroke and 200m individual medley.

“I feel very comfortable about what he’s doing, where he’s at and how he’s operating,” Durden told reporters in Tokyo, which is under a state of emergency due to a spike of infections in recent weeks.

“He’s doing awesome and now we’re just focused on getting him swimming fast.”

Asked how Andrew’s teammates and the wider community of athletes in the Olympic Village felt, Durden replied: “(There’s) no resentment and we’ve felt no vibe with it.”

Durden said Andrew was abiding by the strict health protocols in place for the Games, including extensive Covid-19 testing, masking and social distancing.

“It’s a team thing that we really support each other on and Michael’s no different in that regard,” he said.

Andrew has followed an unconventional path since turing professional at just 14, training using a race-paced concept that features much less distance swimming at race speed and does not include weights.

The Tokyo Olympics were delayed for a year because of the pandemic and there have already been dozens of Games-related coronavirus cases ahead of tomorrow’s opening ceremony. — AFP

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