Why Many Athletes Will Be Left Out When Olympic Training Centers Reopen

Why Many Athletes Will Be Left Out When Olympic Training Centers Reopen

Nearly three months after it closed its training centers, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee is preparing to reopen them under a new set of safety guidelines that will severely limit who has access.

Those guidelines may also end up causing a handful of athletes who have lived at the training centers for months to be evicted as the U.S.O.P.C. tries to create a safe training space for its most elite athletes who are seeking a safe, bubblelike setting where they can live and train while other facilities remain closed because of the pandemic.

Under the plan now nearing completion, capacity at the training centers, which under normal circumstances can host hundreds of athletes who live and eat in a dormitory-style environment, will initially be limited to as few as 15 athletes. All of the athletes will have to be tested for the coronavirus when they arrive, quarantine in their rooms for as long as 14 days or until they test negative for the coronavirus, and commit to staying at the center except for the briefest trip to a pharmacy or grocery store.

The U.S.O.P.C. will expand capacity through the summer if there are no disruptions or infections but for now the organization wants to proceed with the utmost of caution while trying not to lose competitive ground to other countries as the Olympics approach. The Summer Games in Tokyo were postponed one year, to begin July 23, 2021, and the Winter Games in Beijing remain scheduled for February 2022.

“Our focus is going to be on the lead-up to Tokyo and Beijing and that will result in a narrowing in the number of athletes and coaches” who have access to the training center, said Rick Adams, the chief of sport performance at the Olympic committee.

In limiting access, the organization is attempting to balance preparation with avoiding the nightmare scenario of Covid-19 spreading through a training center filled with athletes, many of whom are at varying stages in their careers and often participate in less lucrative sports. In normal times, they live at the training centers because expenses are low and they are often subsidized to some degree by the national governing body for their sport. More successful athletes who can afford not to live at the training centers generally only visit for short stints.

But these are not normal times. During a phone call Thursday with leaders of U.S.A. Bobsled and Skeleton, several athletes who reside at the training center in Lake Placid, N.Y. were told they will learn in the coming weeks whether they will be allowed to stay there into July.

Katie Uhlaender, a skeleton athlete who is trying to make her fifth Olympic team, has been living since March at the Lake Placid center, where the training facilities are largely closed. She arrived to compete at the national championships, which were canceled, and decided to stay after production was halted on the reality television show she planned to work on. She plans to apply for residency at the facility, but she is 35 years old and 21st in the world rankings, though she remains the fourth highest-ranked American.

“I am fighting to survive,” said Uhlaender, a two-time gold medalist in the world championships.

Aron McGuire, chief executive of U.S.A. Bobsled and Skeleton, said in an email Thursday he would rely on the U.S.O.P.C.’s guidelines for who gets to stay at the training center.

Jim Leahy, the chief executive of U.S.A. Luge, said there are four lugers currently living at the Lake Placid training center.

“We will submit a list, as the others will, too, and we will try to get as many in as we can but some may not fit the criteria,” said Leahy, whose organization and main training facility are based at the training center.

Max Cobb, the chief executive of U.S. Biathlon Association, said the new limits and safety guidelines presented a major challenge for his athletes, who cannot take off two weeks from endurance training to quarantine at this time of year and usually use Lake Placid as their main training base.

“It’s devastating for us really, the tiny numbers,” Cobb said. He added that the athletes may have to shift to another training center in Vermont to make way for Olympians who are a higher priority for the U.S.O.P.C.

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Adams said the committee was trying to avoid evicting the roughly 15 athletes now living at the training center in Colorado Springs, which it hopes to reopen on June 22, but it remained unclear whether that would be possible if others with a better chance to perform well in Tokyo want to move in.

In addition to hosting athletes, the training centers are a significant source of revenue for the U.S.O.P.C. Not being able to fill them or use them to host development camps for rising athletes or guided tours is expected to cost the U.S.O.P.C. about $4 million this year.

Last month, the U.S.O.P.C. let go more than 100 employees as part of a plan to cope with the projected loss of some $200 million during the next five years.

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