'What a disgrace': Maskless Olympic swimmer a national 'embarrassment'

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American swimmer Michael Andrew sparked controversy after refusing to wear a mask in the Olympics 'mixed zone'. Pic: Twitter
American swimmer Michael Andrew sparked controversy after refusing to wear a mask in the Olympics 'mixed zone'. Pic: Twitter

An Olympic swimmer has been labelled an "American embarrassment" after refusing to adhere to Tokyo Games protocols when he chose not to wear a face mask after his race.

Michael Andrew, the controversial American swimmer who has chosen not to get a COVID-19 vaccination, walked through an interview room without a mask on following a disappointing race in Tokyo.

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Olympic Games protocols require mask-wearing in post-competition "mixed zones," where journalists gather around two metres away from athletes to ask questions. 

Andrew carried a mask in his hand and placed it on a table during the interview. He was twice asked why he was not wearing one.

"No, no reason," he said. He still did not put it on.

"For me, it's pretty hard to breathe in after kind of sacrificing my body in the water," he said. 

"So I feel like my health is a little more tied to being able to breathe than protecting what's coming out of my mouth.

"I do — I respect the decision. I think it's great that there's procedures in [place], but at the end of the day, all of us here have been under quarantine, and under the same testing protocol. 

"So there's a level of safety I'm comfortable with. When we're racing, it's important to get my oxygen."

Andrew leaned forward as he spoke. He was still out of breath after finishing fifth in the 200m individual medley, a race in which he'd been expected to medal. 

Covering the event for USA Today, reporter Christine Brennan took aim at the swimmer in a withering spray on social media, labelling him an "American embarrassment" for deliberately flouting Covid protocols by refusing to wear a mask.

Michael Andrew condemned for refusing to wear mask

"Michael Andrew, the highest profile unvaccinated American Olympian, refused to wear a mask in the mixed zone. Every other US swimmer I’ve seen all week has worn one," Brennan tweeted.

"This is an American embarrassment. It is insulting to every one of his USA teammates who have dutifully followed the rules and worn masks everywhere journalists could see them.

"It’s unbelievable that it was allowed to happen by USA Swimming."

Others also condemned the swimmer for his actions as outrage spread on social media.

The American led by a full second after 150 metres, but faded over the final freestyle leg after going into the race as a genuine medal prospect.

"It hurt really bad," Andrew said of the race. 

"I think it hurt worse than it looked. And it looked pretty bad."

Seen here, American Michael Andrew racing in the 200m individual medley at the Tokyo Games.
American Michael Andrew missed out on a medal in the 200m individual medley despite being one of the race favourites. Pic: Getty

He answered a few more questions about the race, then the two about mask-wearing. He was told again that he was the only American swimmer to walk through the mixed zone without a mask, and again asked why.

"No reason," he reiterated. "I mean, I'll throw it on when I'm done here. But, just, to speak, it's difficult. You know, other people can hear me."

The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee confirmed that Andrew’s actions were a "violation" of COVID-19 protocols, that it is reviewing the matter with USA Swimming and "will take action as needed.”

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