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Belgian skeleton racer makes international headlines after Olympic quarantine nightmare
Belgian skeleton racer Kim Meylemans drew international attention to China’s strict coronavirus policies for this year’s Winter Games after the athlete was forced to continue quarantining despite testing negative for Covid-19 multiple times.
Critics say Meylemans' case embodies the discomfort and confusion that many athletes, journalists and other visitors had expressed before the Games that are being staged in China from 4 to 20 February.
Meylemans had a false positive Covid-19 test upon arrival in Beijing on Sunday, whereupon she was placed in a quarantine hotel. But after three negative tests, the ambulance she thought came to transport her to the Olympic Village took her to yet another quarantine hotel.
“I have to stay in isolation in another hotel for another seven days, with another two PCR tests a day,” she explained in a tearful video shared on social media. “I'm not sure I can handle another 14 days at the Olympics without being allowed to see anyone.”
Belgium has never won a medal in skeleton, reports De Standaard, and Meylemans - nicknamed ‘Lil Belgian’ - was going for the country’s first.
The Belgian Olympic and Interfederal Committee, along with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) itself, were as confused as she was when it learned that Meylemans was being kept in quarantine despite repeatedly testing negative for coronavirus. They lobbied successfully for her release.
“Our main concern was to get Kim to the Olympic village in Yanqing as quickly as possible,” delegation leader Olav Spahl said in a video message.
“We are therefore very happy that this has been effectively achieved. We understand that measures are needed to safeguard the safety and health of Olympic participants, but according to our conviction the athlete must always be at the centre of such an approach. We will continue to work hard to further improve her situation and we will remain in constant contact with her.”
Even after being released from the quarantine after all the international attention given to the matter, Meylemans has been informed that she must continue to isolate herself during training, which means she is not allowed to have contact with anyone from her team or colleagues during sessions.
In a video message shared afterwards, Meylemans said she was relieved that the “mental torture” seemed at least partly over.
The BBC quoted Rob Koehler, director general of the athletes' association Global Athlete, as saying that the way Meylemans was treated was “totally unacceptable”.
“She should never have been exposed to these conditions,” said Koehler. “The IOC is failing to uphold the rights of athletes.”