Virus precautions abound on the world speed skating tour

At ISU World Single Distance Championships, athletes focusing on speed, not spread of disease

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Netherlands competes in Ladies Team Sprint at the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. From left, Femke Kok, Jutta Leerdam, and Letitia De Jong.

Kearns • Hand sanitizer, contained in bottles set on tables and counters or in dispensers attached to the walls, has sprouted up in all corners of the Utah Olympic Oval. Occasionally, a tub of disinfectant wipes serves as a sidekick.

Only the ubiquitous bright orange sweaters worn by supporters of Team Netherlands and the skin suits athletes squeeze into appeared in greater supply at the ice rink Thursday during the opening day of the International Skating Union’s World Single Distance Speed Skating Championships.

Infection rates and death counts from the coronavirus COVID-19 have been dominating headlines and airwaves recently. Yet at this event, which has drawn athletes from around the world — including China, the epicenter of the virus — few seem to be preoccupied with contracting it.

No one was wearing masks and fans sat in close proximity Thursday, going against two of the World Health Organization’s recommendations for avoiding contracting the virus.

[Read more: Utah man on quarantined cruise ship diagnosed with coronavirus]

“I honestly haven’t noticed much concern, especially with the athletes,” said Mari Riser, the events coordinator for the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, which oversees the Oval. “I think they are focused and doing everything they can. They’re washing their hands. We have hand sanitizer everywhere. They understand, ‘If I get sick, I won’t be able to race.’ They’re taking precautions of their own.”

As of Thursday, 45,171 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed and 1,114 people had died from the virus, according to WHO. The vast majority of cases are in the Hubei province of China, though 15 people in the United States have been diagnosed with the illness.

Riser said the Oval is following ISU-issued protocols regarding COVID-19. Upon first arrival at the Oval this week, all athletes were subject to an in-ear temperature scan. Their temperature was then recorded in an official log. Any athlete found to be running a fever was sent back to his or her hotel room until the fever broke. The long-track speed skaters went through the same precautionary measures last week when they showed up for the World Cup event in Calgary, Canada.

Most of the Chinese athletes have been in Canada and the United States since the new year. Those coming from China, however, were subject to a 14-day quarantine before entering the country.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) China races to the silver medal in the Men's Team Sprint at the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. From left, Tingyu Gao, Shiwei Wang.

“It’s so nice to know everyone is going through that testing. You never know,” said U.S. speed skater Kimi Goetz, 25, who will be racing the women’s 500 on Friday and the 1,000 on Saturday. “There are a lot of Chinese skaters here, and it makes you feel safe. It’s such a simple thing they’re asking of us. If they could save something from potentially happening, I think it’s good.”

Organizers at the world championships emphasized they have had no indication of a threat of COVID-19 at this event or at any other speed skating events. Threat of the virus has created some ripples in the sports world, however, mostly in connection with events scheduled to take place in China or that involve Chinese teams. The World Indoor Track and Field Championships, scheduled for next month in Nanjing, China, were postponed until 2021. FIBA postponed indefinitely a qualifier between China and Malaysia for the Asia Cup 2021 basketball tournament scheduled for this week, and the the International Skiing Federation (FIS) canceled its Alpine Ski World Cup openers in men’s downhill and Super G. That event, planned for this weekend, was supposed to be the first alpine World Cup in China and a test event for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.

International athletes have been competing locally in a variety of events, however. The FIS Freestyle World Cup held at Deer Valley last weekend, for example, involved skiers from around the globe. Chinese skiers did not compete in aerials, opting at the start of the season to take that event off the team’s schedule, but did race in moguls.

Jenny Wiedeke, spokeswoman for the FIS, said in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune that FIS is following WHO recommendations on preventing the spread of infections. She said the Chinese athletes most likely did not come directly from their home country to Utah.

“Generally teams and athletes, especially those from overseas, stay on tour throughout the winter and do not travel between home and the competitions,” she wrote.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) China competes in Ladies Team Sprint at the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020.

Dutch speed skater Letitia De Jong, 26, helped the Netherlands set a world record in winning gold in the women’s team sprint Thursday. She is mindful about washing her hands with soap and sanitizer and said the threat of COVIDA-19 has not impacted her, at least not directly. She said the protocols may have affected her competition.

“You might be better off asking the Chinese people, because they were arriving pretty late here because they were stuck in Canada for two weeks,” she said. “But it has not affected my season.”


Women’s 3,000 meters

Martina Sablikova, CZE, 3:54.252

Carlijn Achtereekte, NED, 3:54.924

Natalia Voronina, RUS, 3:55.540

Also: 16. Mia Kilburg-Manganello, USA, 4:05.838

Men’s 5,000 meters

Ted-Jan Bloemen, CAN, 6:04.375

Sven Kramer, NED, 6:04.918

Graeme Fish, CAN, 6:06.328

Women’s team sprint

Netherlands, 1:24.029*

Russia, 1:24.509

Poland, 1:25.378

Men’s team sprint

Netherlands, 1:18.187

China, 1:18.533

Norway, 1:19.545


• Friday, 2 p.m. (Men’s 10K, Women’s team pursuit, Men’s 500, Women’s 500)

• Saturday, 12:30 p.m. (Women’s 5K, Men’s 1,000, Women’s 1,000, Men’s team pursuit)

• Sunday, 12:30 p.m. (Women’s 1,500, Men’s 1,500, Women’s mass start, Men’s mass start)