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TOKYO — Michael Andrew, the controversial and American swimmer who has chosen not to get a COVID-19 vaccination, walked through an interview room after a disappointing race here at the Olympics on Friday without a mask.
Tokyo Olympic protocols require mask-wearing in post-competition "mixed zones," where journalists gather roughly five feet away from athletes to ask questions. Andrew is not the only Olympic athlete to break those rules, but he is the first American swimmer to violate them. All others, ever since the competition started on Saturday, have given interviews with masks on.
Andrew carried a mask in his hand and placed it on a table during the interview. He was twice asked why he was not wearing one.
"No, no reason," he said. He still did not put it on.
"For me, it's pretty hard to breathe in after kind of sacrificing my body in the water," he said. "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.
"I do — I respect the decision. I think it's great that there's procedures in [place], but at the end of the day, all of us here have been under quarantine, and under the same testing protocol. So there's a level of safety I'm comfortable with. When we're racing, it's important to get my oxygen."
Andrew leaned forward as he spoke. He was still out of breath after finishing fifth in the 200-meter individual medley, a race in which he'd been expected to medal. He led by a full second after 150 meters, but faded over the final freestyle leg.
"It hurt really bad," Andrew said of the race. "I think it hurt worse than it looked. And it looked pretty bad."
He answered a few more questions about the race, then the two about mask-wearing. He was told again that he was the only American swimmer to walk through the mixed zone without a mask, and again asked why.
"No reason," he reiterated. "I mean, I'll throw it on when I'm done here. But, just, to speak, it's difficult. You know, other people can hear me."
The United State Olympic and Paralympic Committee later released a statement that "not wearing a mask is a violation of the COVID mitigation protocols put in place by both the USOPC and [Tokyo Olympic organizing committee] — 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.”
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