Olympians in Rio feel safe, excited — not scared

7:30 PM ET

RIO DE JANEIRO — Faster. Higher. Scareder?

That has been the takeaway from many stories leading into these Rio Olympics, what with the heavily covered potential risks of the Zika virus, bacteria in the water, terrorist threats, widespread city crime and lodging problems. There also has been thorough coverage about athletes doping, particularly the many banned Russians.

Are the Olympians worried about being here? Some have concerns, sure, but they certainly are not letting that curb their enthusiasm to compete.

“There are concerns that are definitely there,” U.S. tennis player Rajeev Ram said, “but we were well prepared and went through a lot of precautions we need to take, and I think if we didn’t all feel comfortable about being here we probably wouldn’t. I think everyone on the team is real comfortable with the environment situation and looking forward to having a successful Olympics.”

American diver David Boudia, a gold medal winner who competed in London and Beijing, where there were also stories about negative areas surrounding the Games, said the negative coverage leading into Rio has been overblown.

“Every Games has the hot-topic issues, and this one is no different,” Boudia said. “They’re going to have issues. I said at the Olympic trials, we expect to go in there and it to be absolutely amazing, and it isn’t steering wrong so far. They seem like they’re on top of their game. Obviously, they’re getting some last-minute things patched up, but I feel like that’s what Athens 2004 [was like]. For the athletes, it’s great.”

Abby Johnston also says much of the possible negative aspects here have been too sensationalized, particularly the risk of Zika. In addition to being a silver medal-winning diver, Johnston is a medical student at Duke who thoroughly researched Zika before the Olympics. She says she learned that the threat of getting the virus is very, very slim. She says she hasn’t seen any mosquitoes (it is Brazil’s winter).

“I’m constantly spraying myself just to be proactive,” she said. “But we have Zika in the U.S. now, too.”

There are significant water bacteria issues in Rio, but sculler Gevvie Stone said in a U.S. Rowing release that the cleanliness of the water has been above expectations. And there also are serious issues with the water in Flint, Michigan, home of boxer Claressa Shields. So the 2012 gold medalist isn’t worried here.

“I never had to deal with Zika in Flint but just with the water and everything, I kind of block it out,” Shields said, adding she, too, thinks the media has focused too much on the negative. “The athletes who decided not to come to Rio because of the Zika virus definitely made a big mistake. It’s not that big of a deal. The mosquito spray works perfectly fine. I haven’t been bitten yet, and I’ve been here three weeks.

“The athletes who decided not to come to Rio because of the Zika virus definitely made a big mistake. It’s not that big of a deal. The mosquito spray works perfectly fine. I haven’t been bitten yet, and I’ve been here three weeks.”

Olympic boxer Claressa Shields

“I really feel bad for the athletes who pulled out just because of hearing about the Zika virus and being afraid of it.”

While there were complaints from the Australian team about the Olympic village, the U.S. athletes were enthusiastic about the accommodations.

“When I walked into the village, I was like, ‘Am I in London? Am I in Beijing?’ ” Boudia said. “As far as the buildings are concerned, it seems the exact same. The village is gorgeous. … As far as everything else, it’s another Games but a different location.”

There were concerns about terrorist attacks at Athens in 2004 and London in 2012 as well, but nothing happened. That is the hope here.

“I feel very secure,” Johnston said. “We have this national security or police force walking around with machine guns, so you can’t really feel any safer than when you have that around you. And we have security outside our buildings, with metal detectors coming inside the village.

“To me it feels very similar to London, and I felt safe there.”

Apart from health and safety issues, doping by athletes also has been a frequently covered story, particularly with more than a hundred Russian athletes being banned, including the country’s track and field team.

“To me it feels very similar to London, and I felt safe there.”

Olympic diver Abby Johnston, on the security in Rio

“Obviously, it’s not something that is very good for sport,” Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic said. “Russia is a global power in sport, and to hear and to read about what was happening in the last couple of months was definitely from an athlete perspective not good. Not good for Russia, not good for international sport, not good for the Olympic Games.”

Doping is never good, but the issue definitely is not limited to Rio 2016. “This comes up at every Olympics,” said superstar U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, owner of more Olympic medals than anyone in history.

Whatever the stories, U.S. rugby player Madison Hughes says he is just happy to help bring his sport back to the Olympics for the first time in 92 years.

“I’m still caught up in the excitement of the Olympics,” Hughes said. “I’m not too worried at all. I’m kind of trusting in what’s happening. I feel like before every Olympics, there’s a big panic about things going wrong. I remember before Athens it was that none of the venues are ready.

“I’m hopeful everything’s going to work out. And from what we’ve seen so far, everything is good.”

Of course, the rugby team has been here only a day. But teammate Danny Barrett says he is looking forward to seeing what Brazil has to offer. Whatever risks there might be are not a concern for him. Competing in the Olympics is a much more important focus.

“For my Olympic dream,” Barrett said, “I don’t think anything would ever stop me.”



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