MONACO, Principality of Monaco (AFP) – Top Jamaican hurdler Omar McLeod delivered a rallying cry Thursday for those athletes headed to the Rio Olympics and concerned about the Zika virus.
A raft of top men’s golfers have pulled out of the Games in the Brazilian city, many citing concerns over the mosquito-borne virus.
In Brazil, some 1.5 million people have been infected with the virus, and nearly 1,300 babies have been born with microcephaly — abnormally small heads and brains — since the outbreak of Zika began there last year.
The virus, which usually causes only mild, flu-like symptoms, can also trigger adult-onset neurological problems such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which can cause paralysis and death.
But McLeod struck a more positive note ahead of Monaco’s Diamond League on Friday, saying: “I think about the Olympics more than the Zika. It’s out of my control. I can’t control the mosquitoes, why would I stress about it?
“I think it’s the International Olympic Committee’s responsibility to do the best they can to prevent it.
“You’re going to have millions of athletes and people coming for the Olympics so you can’t just have it free and open for the mosquitoes to infect all these people.”
McLeod added: “I’m really not worried about any mosquitoes. I’m going there with one goal: just to compete and try to win a gold medal. That’s my goal and it will not change. To Hell with the mosquitoes!”
World number one Jason Day of Australia, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama are among top male golfers who have chosen not to go to Rio.
McIlroy gave a blunt assessment this week of the Olympics’ place in the pecking order for male golfers, saying he probably would not even watch the Rio tournament.
When asked what he would tune into during the Games, McIlroy added: “Probably the events like track and field, swimming, diving, the stuff that matters.”
But there has been no such reaction from athletes, McLeod’s French rival Pascal Martinot-Lagarde hitting a fatalistic note.
“There are plane accidents in the world but if someone asks you if you’re going on a plane, you say ‘Yes, of course’,” the hurdler said.
“As a sportsman, the Olympic Games are a great achievement, so no mosquito will stop you going.
McLeod has put himself forward as the man to beat over the 110m hurdles, the recently-crowned world indoor champion having also become the first hurdler to run a sub-13 race (12.97sec in 2015) along with a sub-10sec 100m (9.99sec earlier this year).
“This season has been a redemption year from last year and the world outdoors,” the 22-year-old said.
“Making finals after such a long collegiate year was honestly a blessing, but obviously I wanted to medal… I got sixth,” said McLeod, who turned professional in 2015.
“I’ve had to train hard and be consistent and so far I’ve been doing that, consistently running 13.00sec and that’s a good sign and hopefully I can keep that momentum going into Rio.”