PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — There’s no doubt the coronavirus pandemic will impact the Beijing Olympic Games. Between the delta and omicron variants and the continued spread of the virus worldwide, Beijing organizers have put a number of safety protocols and procedures into place.
For many athletes, they are ready for the Games to begin. That includes biathlete Deedra Irwin, who has always dreamed of calling herself an Olympian.
“I grew up a runner, mostly used Nordic skiing to stay in shape for running when I was in high school,” said Irwin.
In 2018, she almost retired from Nordic skiing, when she found biathlon.
“It was so different but so similar to Nordic skiing, but it added this element that was just so exciting and so challenging at the same time that I haven’t looked back since,” Irwin added.
She’s spent the last four years working toward her goal of being on the Olympic stage, with this past year presenting many challenges.
“By the end of last winter, I had about 50 COVID-19 tests, maybe,” said Irwin. “Because in order to enter the bubbles and leave the bubbles and where we were and how much we were traveling, they just wanted to keep us safe.”
However, the tests are worth it, as Irwin has been named to the U.S. Olympic team for Beijing, an experience that will undoubtedly be unique.
“It looks like it’s going to be an interesting year,” Irwin said. “But I think in general, most of the athletes have kind of come to terms with the fact that it’s just going to kind of be different. It’s not going to be normal, nothing in the past like year-and-a-half, two years has been normal.”
NBC News Senior Medical Correspondent Dr. John Torres says Tokyo proved the Olympics can happen, even in a pandemic.
“They did a great job of controlling the environment there and making sure it did not spread to the public, which is a big concern,” said Torres.
Beijing promises even tighter restrictions on athletes, staff, volunteers and media through a closed-loop system.
“They’re keeping that system closed down, they’re not letting anybody outside that system, regardless of how long you’ve been there, regardless of vaccination status,” said Torres. “They’re trying to keep a great control on it and they’re not letting foreigners come in, other than those that are actually working the Olympics.”
The emergence of variants, like omicron and delta, make containing the virus easier said than done, but Torres believes it’s possible.
He said, “I think they’re going to do a good job because it’s going to be more strict than Japan and I think that’s going to keep it under control even more so.”
Perhaps the only aspect that is more lenient, is that some Chinese fans will be allowed in the stands, which is a change athletes welcome.
“I’m excited, a little nervous,” said Irwin. “It might be a little weird… I think it’s going to be a really awesome experience and we’re just going to have to see what happens.”
It’s also a moment Torres believes will give people hope, as it shows that the world can open again safely.
“We’ve been in this pandemic going on two years now, and it’ll be a great break from the pandemic to see athletes not just from the U.S. but from around the world getting together, doing what they do, and just participating in the sports that they love, and we love watching them do it,” said Torres.