Between porous sanitary bubbles and Omicron, the preparation for the Olympic Games turns into a Chinese puzzle for athletes

Highly stressed out about life, by her own admission, French freestyle skier Tess Ledeux has seen her blood pressure monitor go up a little more lately. In question, the explosion of the Omicron variant in Europe, combined with an Olympic deadline which is fast approaching. And we understand it: getting ready for four years to meet on D-Day, in pajamas with a plaid and a box of Doliprane on your sofa in La Plagne, it fucks her maaaaaaal.

“This fear is omnipresent in the minds of every athlete and every member of the staff, warns the 2019 Big Air world champion. Already an Olympic season is particularly stressful, but there, with the Covid, it’s total angst! We are afraid of the test, we tell ourselves that if we catch it within a fortnight before departure we are screwed because the rules are very strict in China. “If that were to happen to him, Tess Ledeux has no shame in admitting it:” I sincerely think that I will not recover from it. It would be much harder to accept than an injury, for example. »

Less than three weeks before the start of the Olympic Games, while the World Cup events follow one another, it is indeed the entire Olympic circuit that is chattering its teeth and praying to get through the sputters. “Their biggest fear is the Covid, they all protect themselves like crazy so as not to catch it”, thus recalled the Minister Delegate for Sports, Roxana Maracineanu. But this is not always possible, as slalom skier Clément Noël recently pointed out, who denounced the “lack of consistency” of the health bubble set up at the Alpine Skiing World Cup.

Sanitary bubbles, really?

“Limit, we cannot even speak of a health bubble, he tells us. Already because the hotels in which we stay are open to the public. In addition, tourists have not necessarily been tested because, to go to a hotel or a restaurant, you just need to be vaccinated”. If he decided not to ignore the World Cup events, not everyone made this choice. This is particularly the case of the duo Papadakis / Cizeron. Engaged in the European figure skating championships being held this week in Tallinn, Estonia, the Olympic vice-champions in Pyeongchang have finally passed their turn. “Too risky”, according to their trainer Romain Haguenauer.

“The European championships were only their third objective, after the Olympics and the world championships. We were therefore not going to jeopardize the supreme objective, the Olympic gold medal, the only one they lack, for that, ”he continues. Especially since given the conditions offered on site, there was indeed something to scratch the skin: “No sanitary bubble, no PCR test on arrival in the country, at the hotel it’s open bar, there are ordinary tourists mixed with skaters, athletes can go out freely in town, buses are common, the same goes for the locker rooms. Basically it’s the complete opposite of what I put in place around my athletes in Montreal. »

The life of a hermit, a sine qua non for going to Beijing

It must also be said that he trains eleven pairs of skaters entered for the Olympics. “If there was a cluster in the school, almost half of the competitors in the Games would be in danger! he smiles. Since December, he has therefore set up a strict bubble where athletes do not meet, the locker rooms are closed and the mask is compulsory in all circumstances. He also invited his foals to isolate themselves as much as possible as the Games approached. “As Gabriella lives with a roommate, I asked her to rent her own apartment. In fact, we make them live almost in lockdown [confinement], it’s home-rink and home-rink right now. »

A hermit’s life, this is what the daily life looks like for more and more athletes as the deadline approaches. “It’s true that I paid more attention than in other years, admits Tess Ledeux. I still celebrated Christmas with the family, but there were only five of us. I also didn’t totally isolate myself because I knew that if I caught it during the holidays, I still had time to recover and go to the Olympics. But for a few days it’s over, I don’t go out anymore, I don’t go to restaurants anymore and I limit my contacts as much as possible. »

Same caution on the side of Clément Noël, who no longer approaches anyone without the presentation of a negative test: “The few times I go home between the tests, I only see my companion and she gets tested before I ‘come. And if I ever have to see other people, there, for example, I lodged a friend with me some time ago, he got tested before coming. At Christmas like this, my whole family got tested before New Year’s Eve. We have no other choice…”

“It weighs on the minds of athletes”

Omicron is an organizational mess. With a wet finger, Alex Vanhoutte, the coach of the French bobsleigh team, estimates that his workload has doubled compared to the world before. “All our decisions are made in relation to this, on travel choices, on schedules, on everything. The first reflection, each time we want to make a decision, it is linked to the Covid. And we have to be careful because if we miss it, it can have significant impacts, ”he breathes. At least he can console himself by saying that, unlike what can be seen in figure skating or alpine skiing, the bubble set up for the Bobsleigh World Cup really looks like something. Maybe too much, even.

Alex Vanhoutte: “We have just had a positive athlete in our European Cup team, but who was not in the same hotel as us, yet the FIS [la fédé internationale de ski] estimated that, as it was the same nation, we were still in contact. We are therefore no longer allowed to enter the locker room with the other teams. Here, we are in Saint-Moritz, it is -19° and we had to tinker with a makeshift changing room in our van with a small auxiliary heater. “However, despite this heavy context, the former professional bobsledder decided to play the lightning rods for bad news.

“I still try not to put too much pressure on the team because I know it weighs on their minds. There are things I’m not going to tell them so as not to add more stress. We have to juggle between the two: not being too pessimistic at the risk of scaring them, and at the same time telling them to be careful. And when it comes to sport and fun, we’ll wait for all these beautiful people to arrive safe and sound in Beijing if you don’t mind.

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