The handshake may be replaced by a fist-bump at the Winter Games in PyeongChang and it has nothing to do with how old customs are giving way to new in a rapidly evolving world.
In this instance, blame the norovirus. Nowhere does the traditional handshake more visibly signify what the Olympics are supposed to be about than after hockey games, when opponents line up to shake hands. But an outbreak is underway in South Korea, with 49 of 283 confirmed Olympic cases still in quarantine, and Olympic officials are urging athletes to just bump fists.
One of those quarantined is the 62-year-old father of James Wisniewski, a defenseman on the U.S. team.
“He was in the taxi line and started throwing up,” his son told USA Today. “They called the ambulance. It was pretty bad.”
So a fist-bump it is for the U.S. men’s hockey team, with Jim Slater, an alternate captain, fist-bumping media members, too. “It’s good,” Slater told the Associated Press. “I do it to everybody. Touching hands and stuff, you never know where hands are. Just being cautious.”
The women’s teams are continuing to shake hands, as the United States and Finland did Monday after their semifinal.
“That’s part of what’s special about hockey is the mutual respect and the handshake after,” U.S. forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson told the AP after the U.S. advanced to the gold-medal game. “In these tournament settings, it’s not prelims anymore, so I think shaking hands … it’s just respect.”
Fist-bumping may be a common sense solution to the outbreak, which was revealed just three days before the Opening Ceremonies on Feb. 9. Norovirus, which can be spread through close contact with an infected person, is highly contagious and usually is spread through contaminated food or water or contaminated surfaces, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms usually begin 12 to 48 hours after exposure and last one to three days, with no specific treatment.
“You know doctors — one doctor [has a] different opinion, like the lawyers,” Rene Fasel, head of the International Ice Hockey Federation, told the AP while describing the precautions being taken. “That would be a disaster if a good team is just taken out because of that. I feel sorry because this is hockey game and we shake hands at the close of game. [But] if we can help to avoid that there is an infection in the team in a very important moment of the tournament, I think that’s a good decision.”
Wisniewski knows all too well that the norovirus is to be taken seriously.
“It’s something that you’re like, ‘Ah, really how bad can it get?’ And then all of a sudden bang, bang — a couple people close to you have it and you don’t really know how, you don’t know where,” Wisniewski said. “You don’t want it going through your locker room, that’s for sure.”
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