BEIJING (AFP) – Officially, the Beijing Olympics are taking place inside what organizers call a “closed compound activity area”.
This is a great way to say “closed loop”.
You probably know it better as “the bubble”.
Bubbles are now part of the norm at major sporting events.
The premise of this bubble is simple: Keep those who passed multiple tests just to make it to the Olympics, and keep the rest of the world — and hopefully COVID-19 — away. I’ve worked with the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, Grand Slam tennis events, college sports, the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics last summer and much more.
Everyone inside the bubble is, in theory, virus-free when they enter and think they have a chance of staying that way if strict rules are followed. For some, it wasn’t planned. Their Olympics ended before they could start after testing positive. For most, it works.
It is hard for everyone.
“Everyone’s road to Beijing has been nothing out of the ordinary,” said Brittany Bowie, US Express spokeswoman.
The road after their arrival in Beijing is also not ordinary.
The stadiums are open to Olympic family members, while the rest of Beijing is essentially closed. The Forbidden City is, well, forbidden. The Great Wall of China is sometimes seen but cannot be climbed. The arrivals section of the normally bustling Beijing Capital International Airport was a ghost town, none for those in full protective gear tasked with administering coronavirus tests and directing visitors to the appropriate bus.
Olympic hotels are surrounded by walls. The police and guards are the only ones who open and close the gates of buses and other approved vehicles. When media centers everywhere are closed for the day, surfaces are sprayed with disinfectant and tested for the presence of the virus. And in case anyone has forgotten where the rules are and what the rules are, there are huge signs at almost every imaginable exit: “Please stay inside the closed compound activity area.”
“It’s an Olympics without friends and family, and that’s the hardest part,” said Emily Sweeney, USA. “I was talking to a Latvian and saying, ‘We’re feeling a little crazy about COVID,’ but we both agreed, it’s very important now. I’ll be able to breathe afterwards. It’s a bubble…but the term ‘bubble’ and the fact that we’re always tested It keeps me alert.”
Italian bobsleigh athlete, Kevin Fischnaler, tested positive two days before he competed in the Olympics and was banished from the village; His cousin Dominic Wechsnaller ended up winning a bronze medal. US figure skater Ilana Myers-Taylor missed a casual workout last week – and a chance to carry the US flag at the opening ceremony – because she was in isolation after testing positive; She has now been approved and plans to be competitive in her two events.
“I’m still afraid to take my mask off,” said American curly hair Vicki Bersinger. “Fear has been ingrained in me for several months now. But everything is safe here. They have done a great job with all the tests.”
Ah, the test.
It’s a daily requirement – sometimes more. Some Olympic family members were told on Sunday that if they had recently visited an alpine ski venue, they would need a second PCR test that day rather than just one. The bubble, despite the best efforts of most of those in it, is not airtight.
Double Olympic champion Simin Hegstad Kruger of Norway, one of the best cross-country skiers in the world, was unable to defend his title in the 30km ski race earlier this week. He tested positive even before he came to China, which means he couldn’t even get into the bubble.
“The Games have to be the pinnacle of the sport, and you have to have the best athletes here at their best,” said British skater Andrew Musgrave. “If you become an Olympic champion, you want to because you are a worthy champion, not because your competitors are not here.”
Most athletes will be in the bubble for no more than two weeks. They won’t even come close to a record for the longevity of a bubble.
When the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat advanced to the 2020 NBA Finals in the league’s restart bubble at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida, they both cut more than 90 days apart from the outside world. No fans, no family, just FaceTime and several Amazon deliveries a day (some players bought everything from furniture to wine fridges in order to pop their NBA bubble, and left most of those purchases behind).
Like this bubble, masks and testing were the norm within the NBA bubble. But this Olympic bubble has raised safety to a higher level than the National Basketball Association has done, especially given China’s zero-tolerance policy for positive tests.
“Tough, very tough,” Lakers star LeBron James said of his time in the bubble. “I played with your mind. I played with your body. You are far from some of the things you are used to, to make you as professional as you are.”
He persevered and held a high golden cup when his bubble ended.
Here, those who handle it best will raise gold medals.
“This is a really difficult thing we choose to do,” Sweeney said. “I would say I go to Beijing and get a quick look at the culture, but not really being able to experience any of it, it’s just sad. It’s sad knowing we’re having an Olympics in a place that can be really cool to see a completely different culture. …and we can’t see her.
“But is it worth it? Absolutely.”