TOKYO (AP) — Michael Andrew, who made waves for saying he wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19, didn’t wear a mask behind the scenes after swimming his final at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday.
The 22-year-old American was maskless when he stopped to speak with reporters in the mixed zone, an area where journalists interview athletes after events.
Most swimmers wear face coverings outside of the pool, while media and workers are required to don face coverings at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre. But the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said Andrew didn’t violate COVID-19 protocol, because athletes are allowed to remove masks during interviews in the mixed zone, even though most keep their masks on.
Asked why he wasn’t wearing a mask, 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.”
Andrew finished fifth in the 200-meter individual medley. He was to return Friday night to swim in the 50 free preliminaries.
“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,” he said.
The Tokyo organizing committee’s policy states that following a competition all athletes must wear masks, but that masks can be removed during media interviews in the mixed zone.
The USOPC said after talking to Andrew and reviewing the Games Playbook, they determined he wasn’t violating the policy.
“Michael has been reminded of the Games policy and established COVID mitigation protocols, and has acknowledged the importance of following all guidelines intended to keep athletes and the community safe,” the USOOC said in a statement.
While there’s been a raging debate in the U.S. about wearing masks, nearly everyone on the streets of Tokyo wears face coverings. Coronavirus infection cases have reached daily records in Tokyo, and the Japanese government has declared the capital and several other regions under a state of emergency during the games.
Andrew was already under scrutiny for his decision not to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.
“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,” Andrew said during a pre-Olympic training camp in Hawaii this month.
“As an athlete on the elite level, everything we 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 has said he has no plans to be vaccinated in the future.