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Coach Al Fong: Alternate gymnasts kept separate from 6 competing athletes

Meet the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team for Tokyo
Posted at 12:16 PM, Jul 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-19 13:56:12-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With the news of a positive COVID-19 test on the U.S. women's gymnastics team, many people are now worried how it might affect the rest of the team.

Kansas City-area gymnast Kara Eaker tested positive for the virus, and fellow Kansas City-area teammate Leanne Wong has been placed in quarantine due to close contact.

Both women were traveling with the team as alternates, but any hope of filling in and making an Olympic appearance is now dashed.

Now, many people are wondering if Wong will be the only athlete to be quarantined.

The high-profile team that includes names like Simone Biles and Jordan Chiles is one of the most highly-anticipated Olympic appearances.

KSHB 41 News talked to Al Fong, who coaches Wong and Eaker and traveled with them to Tokyo, about what life inside their Olympic bubble has been like.

Fong first said he was shocked a positive test even came back after all they had to go through to even get into Japan.

“We sailed through with flying colors. Sailed through with flying colors just to get into Japan, and it was a five-and-a-half-hour process doing that," he said.

The gymnasts arrived in Nakita, Japan, to train before heading to Tokyo, and that's where the positive result came back.

The coach explained that the group only leaves their rooms to eat or to go to the gym for training, and through all that, the athletes have little contact with each other.

“In the eating area, the athletes that were on, the six athletes and they stayed on the left side of the room and replacement stayed on the right. We did everything we possibly could everybody by procedure to stay as distance as possible," Fong said, explaining the athletes even all ate with three feet of space between them.

The competing athletes were even kept separate in the one other space they're allowed to be — the bus.

“Even on the bus going to and from, the six athletes stayed in the front of the bus and the replacement athletes stayed in the back," Fong explained.

"Until now, replacement athletes and coaches were training in the same facility as competitiors, but were in separate groups during training. They lined up, warmed up, and trained in two separate groups. Coaches wore masks at all times and athletes maintained social distancing when possible," USA Gymnastics said. "The delegation had designated restrooms not utilized by anyone else in the training facility."

Since Eaker tested positive, the protocols have become even more stringent, and the six competing gymnasts have since left for Tokyo.

“We are in our room... there was no more practice. We're not leaving our room. All the food is brought to us — morning, noon and night. We aren’t allowed to go anywhere. We can’t go down to the first floor. We are now no longer going to the dining area. We are just here on the sixth floor," Fong said. “Immediately they separated us. They separated us from all contact and immediately everybody started to having their food taken to the rooms.”

The group left in Nakita is now set to spend 14 days in isolation alone in their rooms with only their phones and Japanese television for entertainment, according to the coach.

Both Eaker and Wong are not showing symptoms and are feeling well.

There have been no other positive tests or quarantines reported for the rest of the team, including for the six competing gymnasts.

USA Gymnastics released the following statement:

“One of the replacement athletes for the women’s artistic gymnastics team received a positive COVID test on Sunday, July 18. After reviewing the implemented COVID protocols with members of the delegation, the local government determined that the affected replacement athlete and one other replacement athlete would be subject to additional quarantine restrictions. Accordingly, on Monday, the Olympic athletes moved to separate lodging accommodations and a separate training facility, as originally planned, and will continue their preparation for the Games. The entire delegation continues to be vigilant and will maintain strict protocols while they are in Tokyo.”