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An Alternate For U.S. Olympic Women's Gymnastics Tests Positive For Coronavirus

Updated July 19, 2021 at 1:15 PM ET

TOKYO — Kara Eaker, an alternate for the U.S. women's gymnastics team, has tested positive for the coronavirus. USA Gymnastics said the rest of the team, which includes superstar Simone Biles, is continuing to prepare for the Games.

Leanne Wong, another alternate who trains with Eaker at the GAGE Center in Blue Springs, Mo., is also entering quarantine because she is a close contact, according to a statement from the gym. It added that Wong has tested negative for the coronavirus.

Eaker, who specializes in balance beam, tested positive, although she is fully vaccinated and "despite all attempts to follow all safety procedures and many many prior negative tests," her mother, Katherine G. Eaker, said in a statement posted by the GAGE gym.

Eaker is not currently experiencing any symptoms, her mother added.

The U.S. women's team has four alternates: Eaker and Wong, along with Kayla DiCello and Emma Malabuyo.

"We can confirm that an alternate on the women's artistic gymnastics team tested positive for COVID-19," the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee said in a statement to NPR. "In alignment with local rules and protocols, the athlete has been transferred to a hotel to quarantine. Out of respect for the individual's privacy, we cannot provide more information at this time."

It's the latest setback in an Olympics already delayed by a year because of the pandemic. As thousands of athletes, journalists and others stream into Japan, a number of people have tested positive despite strict coronavirus testing and health protocols.

The six primary members of the team have been training at the same facility as the alternates, but in different groups. The Olympic athletes and the alternates dined in the same room and rode the same bus, but sat on opposite sides of each.

Now, the two groups are further apart than before. "On Monday, the Olympic athletes moved to separate lodging accommodations and a separate training facility, as originally planned, and will continue their preparation for the Games," USA Gymnastics said in a statement to NPR.

The positive test was first reported by Japan's Kyodo News agency. It said the city of Inzai said the gymnast tested positive at a pre-event training camp there.

Biles is slated to compete with three other gymnasts in the team event: Jordan Chiles, Sunisa Lee and Grace McCallum. Two other event specialists, Jade Carey and MyKayla Skinner, are also part of the squad.

The women's qualifying event is set to begin on Sunday, two days after the opening ceremony. The women's team final is scheduled for July 27, and the all-around individual final is later that week on July 29.

The COVID-19 protocols for the Games seem to leave the door open for athletes to continue to compete, even if they are a close contact of someone with a positive test. It's decided on a case-by-case basis. To be allowed to compete, they'll need to maintain negative tests every day for a period to be decided by the Results Advisory Expert Group, which is charged with managing close contacts of positive cases.

If they are allowed to compete, stricter-than-usual protocols might be implemented, such as "moving to a private room, eating meals alone, using dedicated vehicles, or separation during training and at your competition venue," according to the athlete's playbook.

Japanese health authorities and the sport's governing body must agree with whatever decision is made, the playbook says.

An athlete who is not allowed to compete could be replaced by an alternate in individual and team events.

Olympic organizers saidSundaythat four athletes have already tested positive for the virus while in quarantine in Japan.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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