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US swimmer Andrew causes stir after going maskless behind scenes at Olympics

Tokyo Olympics Swimming
Posted at 5:37 AM, Jul 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-30 06:45:31-04

TOKYO — Michael Andrew, who made waves for saying he wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19, didn’t wear a mask behind the scenes after swimming his final at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday.

The 22-year-old American was maskless when he stopped to speak with reporters in the mixed zone, an area where journalists interview athletes after events.

Most swimmers wear face coverings outside of the pool, while media and workers are required to don face coverings at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre. But the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said Andrew didn’t violate COVID-19 protocol, because athletes are allowed to remove masks during interviews in the mixed zone, even though most keep their masks on.

Asked why he wasn’t wearing a mask, Andrew said, “For me, it’s pretty hard to breathe in after kind of sacrificing my body in the water, so I feel like my health is a little more tied to being able to breathe than protecting what’s coming out of my mouth.”

Andrew finished fifth in the 200-meter individual medley. He posted the 11th-fastest time later Friday night in the 50 free preliminaries to qualify for Saturday's semifinals.

“I think it’s great that there’s procedures but at the end of the day, all of us here have been under quarantine and in the same testing protocol, so there’s a level of safety that’s comfortable when we’re racing,” he said.

The Tokyo organizing committee’s policy states that following a competition all athletes must wear masks, but that masks can be removed during media interviews in the mixed zone.

The USOPC said after talking to Andrew and reviewing the Games Playbook, they determined he wasn’t violating the policy.