ZIKA damages six at home
There is concern for the health of all who journey to Rio de Janeiro for the XXXI Olympic Games due to the Zika virus.
However, the mosquito-borne virus has already damaged Olympic bids by six home-based Jamaican athletes. Those known to be affected are Rasheed Dwyer, Julian Forte, Michael Frater, Demish Gaye, Anastasia Le-Roy, and Kaliese Spencer.
Dwyer, Gaye, and Leroy, teammates at the Sprintec Track Club - which is based at the G.C. Foster College for Physical Education in Spanish Town - all looked promising early in the season. A lifetime best of 10.10 seconds for 100 metres on April 16 indicated progress for Dwyer in the 200 metres, where he was Commonwealth champion in 2014.
Hit by Zika, Dwyer never approached his 200 best of 19.80 seconds and wasn't even able to run the final of the curved sprint at the National Senior Championships.
Gaye was enjoying a breakthrough season in the 400 metres and chugged to wins at the Gibson-McCook Relays and the Inter-Collegiate Championships for G.C. Foster. His only loss came against Trinidad and Tobago's ace, Machel Cedenio, in the Cayman Invitational when the Jamaican newcomer ran his best time ever, 45.30 seconds.
In similar fashion, the virus erased fine early form shown by Le-Roy, who has won World Championships and Commonwealth gold medals as part of Jamaica's 4x400-metre squads. She had lowered her 200-metre personal best to 22.85 on April 16.
Frater, twice an Olympic 4x100m gold medal winner, ran his best 100-metre time in four years - 10.04 seconds - at the Racers Grand Prix on June 11. Zika smashed his Rio dreams just before the Nationals, which he contested against doctor's order.
Gaye, Le-Roy, and Frater were well off their best times of the Olympic campaign and were all eliminated in the semi-finals of their respective events at the National Championships.
Forte ran 20.18 seconds in the 200 metres at the Racers meet despite a battle against the virus. With 2008 and 2012 Olympic champion Usain Bolt absent, Forte placed third at the Nationals.
Bolt has since run 19.89 seconds for the distance.
Spencer was also affected and finished third in the 400-metre hurdles final in 55.83 seconds. Her best 2016 time is 55.02. She may compete in Rio if Janieve Russell, the fastest Jamaican in the event this year at 53.96 seconds, is unable to prove she is fit before August 8.
Dr Warren Blake, president of the Jamaica Athletic Administrative Association (JAAA), says the seasonal weather conditions and concerted public-health action are making Rio a hostile environment for mosquitoes.
In a recent interview, Blake explained: "The Olympic Games are going to be taking place during the Brazilian winter, which is cool, and it can get cold, which is going to be hostile to mosquitoes."
Continuing the analysis, he said: "It's also going to be the Brazilian dry season, which is also hostile to mosquitoes."
He reasoned that work by Brazilian public health officials and air-conditioned athletes' accommodation would further minimise the Zika threat to health.
As an additional precaution, the Jamaican team has been advised to wear long-sleeved clothing and has been equipped with mosquito repellent.
"Also, as an aside, we advise our athletes that if they intend to indulge in sexual activities," he warned, "which some might want to do, they should use a condom because there is a suggestion that Zika can be sexually transmitted."