Olympics officials Friday defended rules that forced a United States medal hope out of the Tokyo Games after a GOP senator suggested without evidence that the pole vaulter's Covid-19 test was a "false positive."
Sam Kendricks, a Mississippi native, was blocked from the Games on Thursday after testing positive for Covid on the eve of track and field events getting underway.
But Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., suggested the test that knocked him out of the competition was “almost certainly a false positive.”
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“This is an injustice that can still be rectified if the Olympic Committee will be fair,” Wicker declared on the Senate floor later Thursday.
Kendricks, Wicker said, was disqualified “with no consideration for the fact that his test, one among thousands of tests administered daily, may very well have been a fluke!”
“I am outraged, outraged that a young athlete is unfairly missing out on his chance to show his talent to the world and win a gold medal on behalf of his country,” Wicker added.
International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said at a press conference Friday that every athlete competing at the games is treated the same. That includes being immediately retested if their saliva test comes up positive for Covid.
“I can’t talk about the individual case, but that’s what happens in all cases,” he said.
“He and everyone else will be subject to the same strict protocols because it’s important to give everyone confidence. And for obvious reasons, we can’t make exceptions for individuals. Everyone has to follow the rules, I’m afraid.”
But the IOC did say Friday it would make an effort to improve conditions for athletes who land in coronavirus quarantine. That comes after Dutch taekwondo competitor Reshmie Oogink drew worldwide attention when she described her isolation as "Olympic jail" in an Instagram post.
Kendricks, 28, is the two-time reigning world pole vault champion and was one of the top U.S. hopes for a gold medal in the track and field competition, which got underway Friday at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium.
Wicker said Kendricks had Covid before “and should be immune.” But it wasn’t clear if Kendricks was vaccinated and during a June 14 zoom call with reporters, he didn’t directly answer the question, The Wall Street Journal reported.
A Mississippi native and a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve, Kendricks created one of the most memorable moments at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games when he stopped in midsprint, set down his pole, and stood at attention when he heard the U.S. national anthem being played during a medal ceremony on the other side of the stadium.
The Team USA vaccination rate is 83 percent, suggesting as many as 100 American athletes in Tokyo are unvaccinated.
By contrast, just 27 percent of the Japanese population is fully vaccinated, according to the latest figures.
And in recent days, record numbers of new Covid cases have been reported in Tokyo, which has been under a state of emergency resulting in all fans being banned from watching the athletes compete at the Olympic venues.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported 3,300 new positive Covid cases Friday, a slight decline from Thursday's record of 3,865 new cases.
The Japanese government also declared fresh states of emergency in three prefectures around Tokyo and in the city of Osaka.