Ask anyone who’s stayed in an Olympic Village what it’s like, and they’ll tell you that it’s rife with temptation — and they’re not just talking about the gigantic mess hall that offers a mouthwatering array of cuisines from all over the world. Because when the world’s finest athletes — men and women in mint physical condition — are gathered in such close proximity, the temptations of the flesh can be almost too strong to resist. And it’s no secret that sexual hookups among athletes are a common occurrence at the Olympics.
Will that still be the case in Rio?
In the months leading up to the Rio Games, the press has highlighted a host of factors that pose a challenge to athletes and their health, including polluted waters, high city crime rates, shaky sporting-event infrastructure, and of course, the Zika virus, which has emerged as a serious threat to all in Rio this year. And that issue, in particular, can make one wonder how much its looming presence is actually affecting the festive atmosphere this year.
Zika fears have resulted in a large number of top athletes, including high-profile golfers and tennis players, pulling out of the competition. Authorities have had months to prepare and mosquito-proof Olympic venues and have repeatedly stated that it is winter in Rio, which means a dryer climate and fewer mosquitoes. The stores surrounding the Olympic stadiums are well stocked with all manner of heavy-duty mosquito repellent. But now, after Miami reported its own Zika outbreak, and it’s become clearer that the virus can be contracted through sexual contact, fears have once again increased, and not least because of the major role that sex between athletes allegedly plays in the overall Olympics experience.
Sex is a natural outlet
Olympic officials in Rio have reportedly ordered 450,000 condoms — 100,000 of which are female condoms — to be distributed among the 10,000-plus athletes competing in Rio. That’s both understandable and prudent, not just in the context of what happens after hours between athletes and factoring Zika in, but because sex is a natural release for athletes who have been training as hard as Olympians have.
“You have to understand that athletes cut themselves off from so much in life,” New York-based fitness trainer Leandro Carvalho, who has worked with Olympians, tells Yahoo Beauty. “They have to train for six-and-a-half days in a week and they’re training three times a day, doing weights, cardio and stretching. Many of them are locked away on facilities that are almost like prisons — they don’t go to birthday parties, they don’t go on vacation with their friends. They need to let go after they’re done.”
And according to Jason Rasgon, associate professor of entomology and disease epidemiology at Penn State University, letting go in this way should not be a major issue in Rio because sexual transmission is not likely to be the leading cause for Zika transmission.
“I’m not surprised to see that Zika can be transmitted from female to male and the virus has been found in all bodily fluids, but in my view, mosquitoes are still going to be the biggest transmission mechanism and when the wet season comes back to Brazil, we will see a major uptick in the number of cases,” Rasgon, who has just received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study common nonclassical vectors for Zika in the U.S., tells Yahoo Beauty.
Despite having fewer mosquitoes in the dry season, they’re still around, and Rasgon expects that some athletes will indeed contract Zika in Brazil. Symptoms take a couple of days to manifest themselves, but barring pregnancy and complications such as the rare Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system, recovery from the illness is relatively fast. “I know plenty of people who have had Zika and they’ve recovered quickly, so for athletes who are in top shape, it really won’t be such a big deal,” Rasgon says.
Zika is also much milder than other mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue, which was a huge concern during the 2014 FIFA World Cup hosted by Brazil.
Every athlete’s responsibility
The Zika virus is not of any particular concern to Steffen Liess, the manager of Switzerland’s aquatic team; he tells Yahoo Beauty he’s also not worried about anything else untoward or out of the ordinary happening in Rio.
“I’ve been to Brazil three times over the past 18 months, and I have not seen anything that would make me consider not going there,” Liess, who’s in charge of 10 Swiss swimmers, says. “In fact, I’d say there’s more risk of illness to an athlete on a 10-hour flight than there is in the Olympic Village, where you’re surrounded by people in the best health and in top shape.”
Ultimately, and despite the best-laid plans, responsibility and protection will fall to the individual athlete, and “they know about insect repellent, they know about washing their hands, carrying their own water bottles, staying away from raw vegetables and so on,” Liess says. “Athletes are also used to competing in all kinds of conditions and sleeping anywhere from five-star hotels to rough accommodations. We believe the organizers of the Rio event know exactly what to do in terms of installations and organization.”
And those athletes who are really serious about their abilities and who are there to win will not deviate from their game plan.
“It frustrates me that 95 percent of athletes are doing the right thing but only the 5 percent that aren’t get the media attention,” says former Olympic strength coach Rob Schwartz. “In the Village, the majority of athletes comport themselves in an extremely professional manner. You can see that in the way they eat, in the way they behave around others. Yes, everyone is friendly but at the end of the day, everyone is there to do their job, so there’s a real feeling of professionalism.”
Those athletes who are truly serious, who are there to win, are well aware of the impact that indulgences — food, drink, and sex — will have on their body. “For many others, though, the chance to be at the Games is more than enough – they know that they’re not going to win and they know that four years down the line, they may not qualify again, so they party,” Carvalho says.
But party or no party, Zika or no Zika, the Olympic Games are unforgettable for any athlete who has taken part.
“For three weeks, you feel like you are in heaven and you cannot imagine a better place to be,” says Israeli gymnast Felix Aronovich, who competed in the 2012 games in London. “It’s totally surreal and the best experience an athlete could possibly have, with the best of the best in every sport all together in the same place at the same time. If it had been possible, I would definitely have gone to Rio.”