U.S. Olympic Speedskating Trials to Be Held Without Fans, Media Due to COVID Surge

Spectators will not be allowed at the upcoming Olympic trials for the U.S. long-track team after a spike in COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin, US Speedskating announced on Monday.

Fans and media were set to watch the trials from Wednesday through Sunday at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee, but after a surge in cases, plans changed.

The event was closed to spectators after Wisconsin reported 3,883 cases on Sunday with a 24.5 percent positive test rate for the past seven days, WLUK reported.

Pettit Center Execute Director Randy Dean wrote he was disappointed in the change of plans but he respects the "USOPC and U.S. Speedskating to make such a decision in order to give the best chance for athletes to compete safely in the Trials and fulfill their dreams to compete for a spot on the 2022 U.S. Olympic Team," WISN reported.

The Winter Olympics are set to begin in Beijing on February 4 and athletes heading to the Games face tough restrictions traveling to and arriving in China, which has a "zero-COVID" policy, WJXT reported.

Fans can still watch the speedskating trials online as the media coverage will be done completely virtually.

No Fans Allowed for Olympic Trials
The Olympic trials for the U.S. speedskating long-track team will not allow any fans or media in the arena after a surge in COVID-19 cases. Above, Kristen Santos leads a women's 1,000-meter semifinal on Day 3 of the US Short Track Speed Skating Olympic Trials at Utah Olympic Oval on December 19, 2021, in Kearns, Utah. Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

"It's vital that we continue to keep a strong focus on the health and welfare of our athletes," said Ted Morris, executive director of US Speedskating. "Our ability to create a competition bubble provides us with the best situation to protect our athletes while providing them with the opportunity to qualify for the Beijing team at the Olympic trials."

"We appreciate the understanding of parents, fans and media so that we can provide the best environment possible for our athletes," Morris said.

Brittany Bowe, Erin Jackson and Joey Mantia—all from Ocala, Florida—are the leading medal contenders for the American team.

Bowe and Mantia are veterans of the program and looking to make their third Olympics. Bowe won a bronze medal in team pursuit at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

Jackson, who competed in her first Olympics four years ago, has emerged as one of the world's top sprinters, becoming the first Black American woman to win a World Cup title this season.

The short track squad was set last month at separate trials in Salt Lake City.

The short track team includes 2018 Olympians Maame Biney and Ryan Pivirotto. The remaining short trackers will be making their Olympic debuts in Beijing: Kristen Santos, Corinne Stoddard, Julie Letai, Eunice Lee and Andrew Heo.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.