A number of Aussie medalists who took to the podium on Sunday have been embroiled in an Olympics protocol controversy after it was claimed the swimmers were told they could remove their masks for medal ceremonies.
Brendon Smith picked up a bronze medal in the 400m medley final after a stunning comeback, finishing behind Americans Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherman.
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The trio were all smiles on the podium celebrating a medal five years in the making, removing their masks for a brief period for photos.
Australia's record-breaking women's relay team replicated the act as Cate Campbell, Bronte Campbell, Meg Harris and Emma McKeon removed their masks after receiving gold.
All 12 women from Australia, Canada and the US on the podium posed for photos without masks.
But the swimmers were embroiled in controversy late on Sunday when the International Olympic Committee took a dig at the athletes and cautioned that masks were a "must to have" at Tokyo medal ceremonies.
Masks are mandatory across all Olympic venues, both inside and outside for all athletes, staff and media, as part of Games organisers' strict measures to combat coronavirus.
"It's not a nice to have. It's a must to have," said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.
“No, there is no relaxation and we would urge and ask everyone to obey the rules.
“It’s important for the sports, for everyone involved and for our Japanese friends and it would send a strong message."
“We understand … there’s a lot of excitement and of course when you win a medal, we feel for the athletes."
Aussies hit back at IOC over mask controversy
But the Australian Olympic Committee hit back at the IOC and said the athletes received different prompts while on the podium.
"(The) IOC indicates there's a new policy that allows for athletes to take masks off for 30 second at the podium for photographs," the AOC said in a statement.
"Then masks go back on.
"Our athletes were simply following the direction of the official at the podium, who holds up a sign saying masks off briefly for the photographs. That's what our girls did.
"The IOC has confirmed this and there's nothing wrong with athletes doing this."
American gold medalist Kalisz backed up the AOC's claim.
He said there was a member in the pack holding a sign, which was instructing them on when to remove their masks and put them back on.
"Ideally I will wear it as much as possible. If I had the mask off on the podium it was really because someone was holding a sign," Kalisz said.
"I can't speak for what the proper protocol was but he had a sign on the podium that said mask off - mask on, so that's what we did."
Chase Kalisz, a gold medal winning US swimmer, said there was literally someone from the production with a sign telling them to take their mask off at certain parts of the medal ceremony https://t.co/IdtnK4FT4Z
— Phil Lutton (@phillutton78) July 25, 2021
During the Olympics opening ceremony, a number of nations drew the ire of spectators when member marched without masks.
There are strict protocols in place during the Tokyo Olympics as the region remains under a state of emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
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