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Olympic swimmer Michael Andrew refused to wear his mask, but USOPC says he didn't violate rules

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TOKYO — Even though Katie Ledecky, Caeleb Dressel and every other U.S. swimmer has worn a mask while doing interviews with journalists at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, and Tokyo is in a state of emergency due to the pandemic, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee has decided to allow unvaccinated swimmer Michael Andrew to not wear a mask.

Citing the Tokyo playbook of COVID-19 protocols released in June, the USOPC said that athletes can remove their masks for interviews. But every U.S. swimmer other than Andrew has worn a mask in mixed zone interviews and press conferences throughout the Olympic competition, which has gone on for seven days.

Andrew, the highest profile unvaccinated American Olympian, refused to wear a mask in the mixed zone after finishing a disappointing fifth in the men’s 200-meter individual medley Friday morning.

USA TODAY Sports shared the news and a photo of Andrew on Twitter soon afterward, then received this comment from the USOPC:

“Not wearing a mask is a violation of the COVID mitigation protocols put in place by both the USOPC and TOCOG (the Tokyo Olympic organizers) – protocols we have been adamant in following as a delegation. We are currently reviewing this matter with the National Governing Body and will take action as needed.”

But the USOPC reversed course several hours later, saying that while Andrew “has been reminded of the Games policy and established COVID mitigation protocols,” he is allowed to be maskless during interviews.

Swimmer Michael Andrew (USA), the highest profile unvaccinated American Olympian, refused to wear a mask in the mixed zone.
Swimmer Michael Andrew (USA), the highest profile unvaccinated American Olympian, refused to wear a mask in the mixed zone.

When asked by USA TODAY Sports why he was not wearing a mask like all his U.S. teammates, 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.”

He continued: “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.”

When asked again why he is the only American not masked up, Andrew, 22, said, “No reason. I’ll throw it on when I’m done here, but to speak, it’s difficult, probably people can hear me.”

In dozens of interviews in the mixed zone over the last week, American swimmers have dutifully worn their masks and been heard clearly by journalists.

Andrew, the American record holder in the 100-meter breaststroke who has failed to win a medal in two events at these Games, said three weeks ago that he didn’t want taking the COVID-19 vaccine to interfere with his training schedule.

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Both Andrew and his mother have been quoted this year as saying he was not vaccinated and would not be, but he had not confirmed his status since making the Olympic team until he responded to a question from USA TODAY Sports during a USA Swimming media Zoom call July 8.

“I am not fully vaccinated, I’m not vaccinated,” he said. “My reason behind it is, for one, it was kind of a last moment, I didn’t want to put anything in my body that I didn’t know how I would potentially react to.

“As an athlete on the elite level, everything you do is very calculated and understood. For me, in the training cycle, especially leading up to trials, I didn’t want to risk any days out. There were periods where you take a vaccine, you have to deal with some days off.”

Andrew also has said that he contracted COVID months ago.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Olympic swimmer Michael Andrew refuses to wear mask during interviews