China Winter Olympics: Athletes complain about isolation 'horror'

Life in the Olympic gulag: Athletes are ‘crying like crazy’ in hellish quarantine with miserable food where ‘hope is dead’ as DOZENS miss out on their events after testing positive and being carted off to isolation camps

  • Athletes complained of hellish conditions in Chinese isolation hotels after dozens were confined with Covid
  • Valeria Vasnetsova, a Russian biathlete, uploaded a grim picture of food she said was served three times a day for five days straight, leaving her emaciated with ‘bones sticking out’
  • Natalia Maliszewska, a Polish skater, was left ‘crying and crying’ after being repeatedly taken to isolation over unclear Covid tests – including ‘horror’ wake-up by officials at 3am 
  • German team boss said conditions ‘unacceptable’ with rooms too small, unhygienic, and Covid tests not given

Dozens of athletes thrown into virus isolation at China’s zero-Covid Winter Olympics have laid bare their misery – describing ‘crying like crazy’ after being hauled out of bed at 3am before being fed miserable food in rooms too small for exercise. 

Beijing is attempting to hold a virus-free event in the midst of a pandemic, cutting off competitors and their teams in a bubble where tests must be taken every day, with anyone who tests positive dragged off to isolation.

But conditions in isolation are reportedly dire. Valeria Vasnetsova, a Russian biathlete, claims she was served the same inedible meal three times a day for five days in a row – and that it left her so emaciated that her ‘bones [were] sticking out’.

Head of German team Dirk Schimmelpfennig also blasted ‘unacceptable’ conditions for his athletes, saying isolation rooms are too small, not hygienic enough, the food is poor and PCR tests that athletes must take to free themselves are not being given. 

Natalia Maliszewska, a Polish speed skater, described being repeatedly moved into and out of quarantine over successive days due to conflicting Covid test results, an experience she described as a ‘trauma’ that left her ‘crying and crying’.

Valeria Vasnetsova, a Russian biathlete, uploaded a since-deleted Instagram post showing the meal that she claims Chinese Olympic officials gave her to eat three times a day for three days in a row while in Covid isolation

China is forcing Winter Olympic athletes to compete in a Covid secure bubble with tests to be taken every day, with anyone who test positive hauled off to an isolation hotel (pictured)

Olympic teams say the isolation rooms are too small for athletes to train in, the food is poor, hygiene standards are not being observed and tests that competitors must take to free themselves are not being given in time

During one ‘night of horror’ she said officials dragged her out of bed at 3am in order to take her back to the athlete’s village after ruling she was Covid-free – only to later say they made a mistake before taking her back into solitary. 

Canadian women’s ice hockey team plays in masks after Russian opposition’s Covid test results were delayed 

A women’s ice hockey game between Russia and Canada suffered a lengthy delay after Covid test results failed to come back in time – forcing players from both sides to compete in masks. 

Canadian athletes had initially refused to leave their changing room and face Russia because Covid tests taken by the Russians had not been processed.

Had Canada’s players contracted Covid on the ice, it could have ruled them out of the competition.

However, the International Ice Hockey Federation eventually reached a compromise to have players from both teams wear masks.

Forward Oxana Bratisheva said that the Russian team was initially told the game would be postponed before being told it would go ahead after an hour delay.

Players were eventually were allowed to remove their masks at the start of the third period after the test results showed no one was positive.

Russia removed their masks but Canadians kept their on, winning the game 6-1 in the process.  

Canada held out forward Emily Clark for precautionary reasons after her test result came back inconclusive.

 

‘I was sitting in the ambulance. It was 3am. I was crying like crazy because I didn’t know what was going on. I did not feel safe at all,’ the 26-year-old said.

There are currently 387 people from the athletes’ bubble in Covid isolation in China, though this also includes members of their teams and press. The exact number of competitors in solitary is not clear, but is thought to be in the dozens. 

Vincent Zhou, an American figure skater and medal hopeful, was among athletes to test positive on Monday and was taken to isolation. Austrian snowboarder Sabine Schöffmann also tested positive.

Jukka Jalonen, head of Finland’s ice hockey team, said on Sunday that China is violating the human rights of one of his star players by keeping him in isolation despite team doctors clearing him to play.

Marko Anttila has been locked up in an isolation facility since testing positive for the virus 18 days ago, Jalonen said, and remains in isolation despite being symptom-free.

Under China’s strict rules, people can only leave isolation after returning two negative PCR tests taken 24 hours apart.

However, the WHO warns against using PCR tests to determine isolation periods because people can continue testing positive on the very sensitive kits for weeks after they are infectious because small traces of virus remain in their systems.

Anttila is under huge mental strain, Jalonen said, while adding that the athlete ‘is not getting good food’.

His complaint about the food echoes that of Vasnetsova, who took to Instagram to post an image of food she says was served to her three times a day for five days.

The image shows a portion of plain pasta, some kind of grilled meat on the bone, an unidentifiable orange sauce, some potatoes, and what appears to be plain chicken.

Other than the potatoes, which appear to have been fried, no vegetables are included on the plate.

In a message alongside the since-deleted post, she wrote: ‘My stomach hurts, I’m very pale and I have huge black circles around my eyes. 

‘I want all this to end. I cry every day. I’m very tired.’ 

Vasnetsova went on to claim that non-athletes on her team being held in the same hotel appear to have been getting better food, saying her team doctor was served  fresh fruit, a salad and prawns with broccoli.

‘I honestly don’t understand, why is there this attitude to us, the athletes,’ she wrote. 

International Olympic Committee Sport Director Kit McConnell on Monday said the isolation of athletes was a top priority.

He added that the IOC had held a call with Olympic officials from countries represented at the Games to understand the issues the athletes were facing.

‘The athletes in isolation remain an absolute focus. There is a collective responsibility to support these athletes,’ he told a news conference. 

‘That’s not easy for anyone in that situation. We absolutely understand. There are still some individual circumstances which are challenging.’

The 26-year-old Maliszewska told Reuters she was rushed out of her isolation hotel in the ambulance in the early hours of Saturday morning. 

‘They had told me at midnight that I could go out and five minutes later that I could not,’ she said. ‘They told me there’s so many politics stuff that you will not understand. It’s China.’

She said she tested positive again, but nevertheless was told she was allowed to train for the evening heats of the 500 metres – a discipline in which she is ranked third in the world.

‘Then I got the message like half hour before I was going to warm up that they made a mistake, like the organisation made the mistake and I cannot compete because I’m dangerous to people,’ she said.

She said she was tested again on Saturday evening and received a negative result the next morning.

‘I don’t believe all those tests now,’ she said. ‘I want explanations from the people who made me feel not safe, because nobody is saying anything now. They’re silent.’ 

In a lengthy and angry social media post after finally being free from isolation, she added: ‘It’s so f***ing hard for me to speak up and say anything

‘I wanted to let you know I am alive, although I believe that something in me died yesterday.

A Volunteer is seen distributing food inside the Shuanglong Hotel which is serving as an isolation facility during the Beijing


Kim Meylemans, a Belgian skeleton competitor, was freed from an isolation hotel after uploading a tearful post from inside

Belgian skeleton athlete Kim Meylemans pictured at the departure of athletes of Team Belgium to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games

I have been scared for over a week … and these crying mood swings that leave me breathless, that make the people around me worry. And make me worry for myself. 

‘Positive and negative tests, tests close to breaking out of isolation, suddenly positive tests with results that qualify me for going to the hospital on a ventilator. 

‘Later, good results and a chance for parole. Then, a total flop. No possibility … hope is dead. Finally, at 3 am, people pull me out of solitary … that night was a horror. 

‘I slept with my clothes on because I was afraid that someone would take me back to solitary in a moment. I only looked a little through the curtains. 

‘Later on, great hope. I’m packing for the ice rink, I’m getting out! I unpack my clothes, hang my clothes … and suddenly they realise that they were wrong! 

‘They shouldn’t have let me out of solitary confinement! I am a threat! That I can’t compete. I must get back to the village as soon as possible.

I don’t understand either. I don’t believe in anything anymore. Not the tests. Not the games. I hope that whoever controls this has a lot of fun. My brain and my heart can take no more.’

Even athletes who do escape quarantine have complained about the conditions during their events.

Anders Bystroem, head of the Swedish team, has appealed for ski events to start earlier in the day after one of his athletes – Frida Karlsson – was seen shaking and close to collapse at the end of Sunday’s skiathlon.


US bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor, a three-time Olympic medalist, shared her ‘isolation workout’ but will fortunately clear protocol in time to compete in the Games

Bystroem complained the event had been allowed to go ahead despite temperatures being a dangerously-cold -13C (8.5F) before wind chill was taken into account.

The Winter Olympics rules state that events should be called off if temperatures get below -20C (-4F) – but say nothing about wind chill.

Pointing to the women’s sprint race, due to take place on Tuesday evening, he said it should be moved to earlier in the day.

‘The skiathlon started at 4pm and Frida Karlsson was completely destroyed by the cold. It’s not good that the sprint starts even later,’ he said.

Meanwhile Germany’s coach Christian Schwaiger lamented there was no hot food available for athletes. 

‘The catering is extremely questionable, because really it’s not catering,’ he said. 

‘I would have expected that the Olympic Committee is capable of providing hot meals. There are crisps, some nuts and chocolate and nothing else.’ 

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