Food Blamed in Illnesses of U.S. Athletes


Published: August 15, 2008


Source of Article:

BEIJING — Several members of the United States track team experienced food poisoning at the team’s pre-Olympic training center in Dalian, about 300 miles east of Beijing, according to a coach for three Olympians and a doctor for one of the athletes.

 “When we were in Dalian, a lot of guys got sick — five or six every day,” said John Cook, who coaches the runners Shalane Flanagan, Shannon Rowbury and Erin Donohue.

Flanagan was among those who became ill, starting on Monday. She could not keep food down and could not even jog, but she recovered in time to compete in the 10,000 meters on Friday night; she set the American record and won a bronze medal.

Several dozen team members trained in Dalian, but Cook did not say specifically how many were affected. He did say that Sanya Richards, a gold-medal favorite in the 400 meters, was among them.

Cook was not certain what caused the outbreak, but he said potential sources were tap water used to wash lettuce and oil purchased locally.

United States Olympic officials, who had acknowledged concerns about food issues in China leading up to the Games, had brought in a chef, Adam Sacks, from the Denver campus of Johnson & Wales University, to handle food preparations for the athletes training in Dalian.

Olympic officials and Sacks could not be reached for comment late Friday night in Beijing. Cook emphasized that Sacks was not responsible for the illnesses, rather that he was at the mercy of local products in Dalian, a coastal town that was chosen by track officials as a distraction-free setting for athletes in the days before the Games. Athletes and staff began arriving in Dalian on July 31.

Some foods in China have been found to be tainted with insecticides and illegal veterinary drugs, and the standards applied to meat here are lower than those in the United States. That prompted the United States Olympic Committee to take precautions against food-borne illnesses before arriving. The group arranged to have tens of thousands of pounds of lean protein shipped to China from the United States.

It was unclear if those arrangements applied to the track team’s camp in Dalian, which Cook described as peaceful and a proper setting for pre-Olympic training. But then Flanagan became sick.

“She would jog — as soon as she would jog, she’d disrupt things,” Cook said. “It wasn’t a very pretty picture. I probably should have brought her out early.”

Flanagan’s doctor, Alan King of Sarasota, Fla., said Flanagan was abruptly hit with dry heaves, vomiting and diarrhea at 2 a.m. on Monday.

“I was pretty terrified,” said King, who was in Florida at the time and arrived in Beijing on Thursday night.

King, Cook and Flanagan said they were mystified when a United States Olympic official would not approve an intravenous salt solution to replace fluids after she had become ill, because of concerns that it would somehow trigger a positive doping test. They said they did not know who that official was.

Bob Adams, a doctor for the United States Olympic team who treated Flanagan throughout the week, gave her an antibiotic to kill intestinal bacteria, King said.

“He was the reason she did so well,” King said, referring to Adams.

Flanagan had to pass several runners in the final laps to win the bronze, finishing in 30 minutes 22.22 seconds, beating her American record by 12 seconds.

“She ran the most intelligent race I’ve ever seen,” King said.

Flanagan’s husband, Steve Edwards, said he thought the illness had turned out to be a blessing. “She had forced rest, which was a good thing,” he said. “And she was able to sleep 10 to 12 hours a night.

“It was good for her eating the poisoned soup,” he added. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”


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