U.S. national team athletes return home as a result of coronavirus outbreak
For Ted Ligety, the end of his season definitely came quicker than expected, although it wasn’t a complete surprise.
“It’s weird, it’s kind of an empty feeling when your season ends like that. … Especially because Cortina is a cool spot so it’s bizarre and just leaves kind of a vacancy when you think about it,” Ligety said. “We began hearing about this at the beginning on February when the races in China were canceled. It’s crazy how it’s covering the globe so quickly and affecting all of us so strongly is shocking.”
Unfortunately the outbreak of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, throughout Europe forced Ligety to return home, canceling the remainder of his season.
He first got a feeling that his event in Austria was going to be canceled because the women’s event, which took place before his, was canceled on Wednesday, March. 11. He then went to bed that night thinking ominously about his event, but noting that it was still a go at the time before a phone call the next day changed everything.
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“My wife called me at 2 p.m. and told me that Trump announced shutting down travel to Europe so I went and did my research, figured that there was a 1% chance my race would happen, and booked my flight home at 2:30 in the morning,” Ligety said. “The Munich airport was empty that afternoon, which was really bizarre to see. The flight wasn’t overly full and everything was pretty normal going through customs, which I thought there would be more going on.”
Ligety was far from the only U.S. team athlete to return home from overseas following U.S. Ski and Snowboard and USA Nordic’s decision to cancel all domestic events and require their athletes to return to the states as soon as possible.
“We’d been evaluating all travel on an event-by-event basis as this virus outbreak began to evolve, so for us it wasn’t a panic when we decided to bring them all back,” said Lara Carlton, communications manager for U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “When the travel restrictions came down last Wednesday, we took immediate action through our team managers and traveling agents who were in Europe to return them all before the Friday deadline. We understand the severity of this and just want to make sure everyone is healthy and safe now.”
According to Carlton, all U.S. Ski and Snowboard athletes are in constant communication with team doctors upon returning the country. Because the athletes have not only been overseas but also traveled through Europe so much over the past two months, they’ve been advised to go into a 14-day self-isolation while relaying their temperatures and symptoms to team doctors during that time period.
“The U.S. Ski team mandated us two weeks isolation as a precaution, so we stayed really close to not spread it in case we were carrying anything because we were in level three zones,” said Nick Page, U.S. moguls team member. “We haven’t been tested unless we are showing symptoms. … But our medical staff is up to date with all of us so that’s been really good. I’m feeling great, although I had a stuffy nose the first day back, but I think that was just back from a long day of travel.”
For Page, his trip home was a whirlwind that happened so quickly.
The team was in Russia but then traveled to Sweden for the final world cup events of the season. Page was scrolling on his iPhone around 5:30 a.m. when the email came in that the athletes would be returning home but they weren’t sure when.
Then things escalated.
“Our head coach emailed us about five minutes later that we were planning on getting out of there as soon as possible,” Page said. “We had a meeting at 8 that morning and from there it become a whirlwind and went pretty fast once the news came down from the top. Its crazy to think how fast it all happened because we were still getting over the jetlag of traveling and arriving, and then we were gone later that day.”
It wasn’t the way Nina Lussi saw herself returning to the United States. With the season ending, Lussi, who lives in Slovenia part time, was planning on meeting up with a friend to go ski jumping for an extra week of training.
Unfortunately Lussi embarked on a grueling 35-hour trip from Slovenia to her home in Lake Placid, New York, a trip the U.S. ski jumping team member said she’d always remember.
“I’m very happy to be home after getting in a few nights ago. … I mean being there and going through that journey was a little too close to comfort for me,” Lussi said. “I realized that I had to get home because Slovenia was closing down its airports so I didn’t have much time at all. And it just set me on this journey to Turkey, Montreal and finally home, something I will never forget. It was insane.”
For Taylor Fletcher, USA Nordic combined team member, he acknowledges that the decision to cancel the events and return the athletes home was the correct one, but it was still hard to except considering the competitions is how the professional athletes making a living.
“It’s a real bummer for the athletes because that’s our job, that’s what we do and how we money and to have that pulled out from underneath us is a bummer,” Fletcher said. “But it was the right thing to do. … It’s something that needed to be done and I’m thankful for FIS and the organizing committee to have the stones do so and put health first over the athletes.”
With their seasons over, the U.S. national team athletes are making the best of the situation by spending time with their respective families, and getting a much-needed break before training for the following season begins soon.
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It’s going to be at least another month before Summit County’s high school athletes have any chance of getting onto the field again.