Through tears, Kim Meylemans explained how she thought her nightmare was over.
Meylemans, a Belgian skeleton racer, had only recently returned to competition after battling the coronavirus in early January when she left for Beijing on Sunday. A dozen negative tests in the weeks preceding her departure for the Winter Olympics had reassured her that her recovery was coming just in time.
Meylemans was therefore stunned to learn that she had tested positive upon arrival, and frustrated when she was quickly moved to an isolation hotel. What happened next shook her.
In one tearful video posted on InstagramMeylemans recounted how she believed she had been told by Chinese authorities that she would be allowed to return to the Olympic Village to complete her isolation, only to be transported to another and even more isolated facility.
Breathing hard and looking puzzled, Meylemans said she wasn’t sure if she was fit to compete. Even Belgian Olympic officials had not been told where she was being taken, she suggested. “I ask you all to give me some time to think about my next steps, as I’m not sure I can handle 14 more days and Olympic competition while in this isolation,” she said.
Relief came quickly. Hours after her video went viral on social media, Meylemans posted a new video in which she said she received a knock at the door at 11:35 p.m. from officials who promptly escorted her to the Olympic village.
Yet his case underscored the unease and confusion that many athletes, journalists and other visitors had expressed ahead of the Games in China, which is enforcing strict measures under a so-called zero-Covid strategy. These rules have often sown confusion, concern and, in the case of Meylemans, fear.
“This is the problem we said there would be from the start,” said Rob Koehler, chief executive of Global Athlete, an advocacy group. “No one knew what to expect.”
The International Olympic Committee, which had negotiated with Chinese authorities to lower the trigger value for Games participants to return a negative test, said in a statement that it became aware of Meylemans’ case after his release. He said she was treated in accordance with the close contact rules in the so-called Olympic manuals which govern the Covid protocols for the Games. (Several New York Times reporters attending the Games were placed under the same restrictions, which require them to eat and travel alone while they work.) The decision to move Meylemans to a second isolation facility, the IOC said , had only been a matter of available space.
“Close contacts can train and compete, live in the Olympic Village, but must be in one room, transported alone and need to eat alone,” the IOC said.
When Olympic officials were made aware of Meylemans’ “difficult situation”, the IOC said, they acted quickly to secure a single room for him in the Olympic Village.
Once inside, a visibly relieved Meylemans was soon back online, posting a series of Instagram Stories while lying in bed. She thanked her friends for their concern and the Belgian Olympic officials for their help. “At least I’m back in the village,” she said. “I feel safe.”