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How Covid-19 has ruined Olympic dream for some African athletes

SPORTS By Associated Press | July 9th 2021
Yoshiyuki Terajima, a pin collector based in Tokyo, shows his collection next to the Olympic rings monument in Tokyo. [Reuters]

The dreaded test results came back positive for Covid-19 and the illness descended on South African swimmer Erin Gallagher.

In the span of a few days, she went from elite Olympic athlete in peak condition to lying flat on a bed concentrating on the most basic of physical functions. Just keep breathing, she told herself.

The Tokyo Olympics and the dream she’d been chasing for years suddenly seemed out of reach.

“Those were extremely dark times,” Gallagher said. “I couldn’t really see any possible way where I could get to Tokyo. In the back of my mind there was this voice saying, ‘Erin, you’re not going to make it, I don’t think, so rather quit now and just focus on regaining your health.’”

Gallagher’s brush with the coronavirus late last year was extreme and yet she’s one of the lucky ones, even if it took her months to fully recover. She came through it with her health and Olympic ambitions in tact.

The 22-year-old is heading to the Games as part of a South African women’s medley relay team expected to contend for a medal.

Olympic swimmer Erin Gallagher got Covid-19 late last year and went from elite Olympic athlete in peak condition to lying flat on a bed. [AP]

No such luck for many other African hopefuls. As the virus surges again across the continent just as the Olympics approach, the pandemic has done more than just upend plans and make training, traveling and getting precious pre-Games competition tricky for Africa’s athletes. It has ruined dreams.

Take the Senegal basketball team, which made it to the final qualifying tournament for Tokyo last month, only for three players and an official to test positive for the virus on the eve of the competition. The entire squad was sent home, with no chance at the Olympics even for the players not infected and years until another opportunity comes along.

At 33, Nigerian basketball player Micheal Eric probably won’t get another shot. He contracted the virus and, though he was cleared to return to Nigeria’s squad after two weeks in isolation, he said he realized he was “in no physical shape to compete.” He withdrew from the squad and gave up what’s likely to be his only chance to go to the Olympics.

“Being an Olympian has been my lifelong dream,” he said. “But I know I must do what’s best for my health and well-being.”

Even one of the biggest names hasn’t been spared. World record-holder David Rudisha of Kenya won’t be in Tokyo seeking a third consecutive gold medal in the 800 meters after the 32-year-old’s attempts to qualify following injuries were complicated by the pandemic. So might end the Olympic career of one of track’s great middle-distance runners.

While there’s probably not an Olympian on the planet who hasn’t faced a Covid-19-related challenge over the last 18 months, Africa’s new wave of cases and desperate vaccine shortages have led to lockdowns being reinforced and the return of training restrictions, partly because no one wants to get the virus now with just weeks to go.

Covid 19 Time Series


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