Cyclist Tejay van Garderen has removed his name from from consideration for the U.S. team that will compete in the Rio Olympics, becoming what is believed to be the first U.S. athlete to back out because of concerns about the Zika virus.
Van Garderen, who was likely to make the team, is concerned that, if he contracted Zika, he could pass it along to his pregnant wife, who is due to give birth in October.
“If Jessica were not pregnant right now, assuming I was selected, I would go,” he told Cyclingtips. “But the fact is, she is pregnant. If we were just going to start trying, I’d say we could start trying six months after the Olympics. But when she has a baby in her belly, I don’t want to take any chances.”
Van Garderen, 27, was a member of the 2012 Olympic team and most likely would have qualified for one of the two spots on the U.S. team for road events. Both riders must compete in the time trial and road race. A veteran of the Tour de France, van Garderen is considered to be a strong time-trial cyclist whose climbing ability would have been valuable on Rio’s hilly course.
Kevin Loughery, a spokesman for USA Cycling, confirmed van Garderen’s decision for the Associated Press, adding that he is the only athlete who has chosen to withdraw from consideration for the team, which is expected to be announced June 24.
“People are probably going to have different opinions on this. I’m sure they will think what they are going to think, but the fact is, if anything were to happen, I couldn’t live with myself,” he told Cyclingtips. “I’m much more at ease with this decision than I would be if I were trying to go to the Olympics.
“Besides, I don’t think this will be my last chance to go to the Olympics. I’m sure I’ll still be around in four years.”
Earlier this month, Australia’s Mark Leishman, the 35th-ranked golfer in the world, announced that he would skip the Olympic tournament because of concerns about Zika. Leishman’s wife, Audrey, suffered a near-fatal case of toxic shock syndrome last year, and Leishman didn’t want to jeopardize her recovery by putting himself at risk to Zika in Rio de Janeiro.
He is the fifth big-name golfer to back out of going to Rio, joining Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Vijay Singh.
Last month, Major League Baseball moved a series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins from Puerto Rico to Miami because of concerns about Zika.