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U.S. middle-distance runner Cole Hocker heading to Tokyo unvaccinated as Olympics grapple with COVID-19

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INDIANAPOLIS – Middle-distance runner Cole Hocker is the latest prominent U.S. Olympian to acknowledge he is not vaccinated.

Hocker, 20, of Indianapolis, said so in a conference call Monday organized by the University of Oregon. He won the 1,500 meters in the Olympic Trials and would be the youngest to represent the United States in an Olympics in that track event since 1968. The three-time NCAA champion is one of three finalists for the Bowerman Award, the track version of the Heisman Trophy.

To get to the starting line for the heats Aug. 3, he would have to test negative for COVID-19 multiple times. He said he is leaving July 28 for Tokyo.

Opening ceremony is Friday.

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Cole Hocker celebrates after winning the final in the men's 1500-meter run at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials on June 27 in Eugene, Ore.
Cole Hocker celebrates after winning the final in the men's 1500-meter run at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials on June 27 in Eugene, Ore.

Oregon distance coach Ben Thomas said Hocker contracted COVID-19 in recent months but had no symptoms other than two days of headaches.

“I’m not really too worried about it, going in,” said Hocker.

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Swimmer Michael Andrew, who qualified in three individual events, previously said he was not vaccinated. The International Olympic Committee has not required the 10,000 athletes to be vaccinated.

The Hocker news comes on a day when the fragile nature of the pandemic-plagued Olympics was underscored. U.S. tennis player Coco Gauff tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing her out of the Olympics. An alternate on the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, Kara Eaker, 18, tested positive for the virus. She is quarantining in a hotel, according to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Another athlete, Katie Lou Samuelson, lost her spot on the Olympic team for health and safety protocols, USA Basketball announced. She was on the team for 3x3 basketball. She posted on Instagram she was vaccinated and “took every precaution."

Samuelson was replaced by former Notre Dame player Jackie Young, the top scorer in Indiana high school history.

Brian McCloskey, chair of an independent expert panel advising the IOC, was asked what he thought the odds were an athlete would be contact-traced out of an event.

“I think it’s possible,” he said. “It’s something that could happen. We try very hard to make sure it doesn’t happen."

Lindsay Mintenko, an Olympic gold medalist and managing director of the U.S. national swim team, said an athlete is not automatically disqualified if contact traced, if the athlete has been vaccinated.

"The virus is still here,” Mintenko said. “It’s out there, and we’re going into an environment where we have no idea what the other population has been doing to protect themselves. That makes me nervous. We are going to do a lot to protect ourselves. But I’m nervous about what we’re going to walk into.”

Contact IndyStar reporter David Woods at david.woods@indystar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007. USA TODAY Sports columnist Christine Brennan contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: USA runner Cole Hocker among unvaccinated Olympic athletes in Tokyo