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U.S. pole vault champion out of Olympics after testing positive for COVID-19

U.S. pole vaulter tests positive for COVID-19
U.S. pole vaulter tests positive for COVID-19 at Olympics 06:48

A U.S. pole vaulting superstar has tested positive for COVID-19 — sending a slew of Australian athletes into isolation. Sam Kendricks, the reigning world champion and the American record holder, has had to pull out of the Tokyo Olympic Games

"The health and safety of our athletes, coaches and staff is our top priority. We are saddened to confirm that Sam Kendricks tested positive for COVID-19 and will not compete in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020,"  U.S. Olympic officials tweeted Thursday. 

Officials said that Kendricks, a 28-year-old first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve, has been transferred to a hotel to be placed in isolation. The two-time reigning world champion, who won a bronze medal in Rio in 2016, was considered a gold-medal contender.

Kendricks's father and coach, Scott Kendricks, wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post that Kendricks "feels fine and has no symptoms."

17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 - Day Five
Sam Kendricks celebrates winning the Men's Pole Vault final during day five of the 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 on October 01, 2019. Andy Lyons/Getty Images for IAAF

"Sam is an incredible and accomplished member of Team USA and his presence will be missed," U.S. Olympic officials added. "Out of respect for his privacy, we cannot provide more information at this time." 

It is not clear whether the Oxford, Mississippi native has been vaccinated. 

Kendricks went viral at the 2016 Games when he stopped midstride, dropping his pole to stand at attention when he heard the national anthem being played for another athlete's medal ceremony.

Kendricks' positive test had worldwide implications. He briefly sent the entire 54-person Australian track and field team, made up of 41 athletes and 13 officials, into isolation, after three athletes reported having contact with him. All three later tested negative and were cleared for competition, and the team has been allowed to return to normal activities. 

"The three, who are all vaccinated, self-reported once they heard news of the U.S. athlete testing positive late this morning," the Australian Olympic Committee said in a statement. "All daily tests of the trio in the Village had also returned negative results."

2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials - Day 4
Sam Kendricks competes in the Men's Pole Vault Final during day four of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 21, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. / Getty Images

"Once again, abundant caution and our strict protocols continue to keep the Team safe," said Australian Olympic Team Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman. "We want every Australian athlete to be in a position to have their Olympic moment. We will continue to be vigilant." 

Qualifying for the men's pole vault will take place on Saturday, and the final is scheduled for Tuesday. It is not clear which other athletes Kendricks may have been in contact with. 

"He and his close contacts were immediately notified and protocols were activated to isolate the athlete," USA Track & Field said in a statement. "We are following the USOPC and guidance on next steps to ensure the safety of the remainder of our delegation, and to offer support to Sam."

Olympic host city Japan has extended its state of emergency amid the city's worst coronavirus surge. 

The number of new coronavirus cases registered in Tokyo on Wednesday was the highest since the start of the pandemic, topping 3,170. The nationwide total also hit a new high of 8,160 cases reported in a single day, with doctors warning that the host city's medical system faced being overwhelmed.

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