Michael Andrew, an Olympic gold medal favorite, says he won't be vaccinated for Tokyo

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One of the Team USA swimmers most poised to make a splash at the Tokyo Olympics won't be vaccinated for the event.

Swimmer Michael Andrew told reporters on Thursday that he has not been vaccinated and will not be vaccinated in the "distant future." He justified the decision by citing concerns about the impact of vaccine side effects on his training schedule and the safety protocols already put in place by USA Swimming.

His justification:

My reason behind it is I, for one, it was kind of a last moment, I didn’t want to put anything in my body that I didn’t know how I would potentially react to. As an athlete on the elite level, everything we do is very calculated. For me in the training cycle, especially leading up to trials, I didn’t want to risk any days out, because we do know that there are periods where, getting the vaccine, you have to deal with some days off. 

But as far as that goes, USA Swimming and all of us here have been through a very strict protocol with lots of testing, masks, socially distant, obviously staying away from the crowds, everything like that. And going into Tokyo, the same thing, with testing every day. So we feel very safe and protected, knowing that we’re minimizing risk as much as possible. 

There is no provision requiring Olympic athletes be vaccinated, even as concerns about the pandemic and rising Delta variant continue to dominate Olympic coverage. Andrew also probably won't see much different treatment as an unvaccinated athlete, though a close contact with an infected person could lead to stricter protocols.

And, of course, Andrew faces removal from competition if he tests positive for the virus.

Andrew isn't alone as an unvaccinated Team USA athlete, though USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland has said she expects "the vast majority" of American athletes at the Olympics to be vaccinated. The IOC has also said "well above" 80% of residents at the Olympic village will be vaccinated.

Michael Andrew is a legitimate gold medal contender

Andrew wasn't seen as one of USA Swimming's heavy hitters entering this year, but that changed at the U.S. Olympic trials last month.

The 22-year-old swimmer qualified for the Olympics in the 200-meter individual medley, 100-meter breaststroke and 50-meter freestyle, winning the first two events. In fact, he posted the fastest time seen in five years in the 200 IM, flirting with world record pace until the final 50 meters:

Andrew currently stands as the gold medal favorite in the 200 IM, and figures to be a medal contender in both of the other individual events for which he's qualified. As the country's top breaststroker and a capable freestyle sprinter, he could also see some usage on the United States' relay teams.

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