WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., today from the Senate floor called out the injustice of Olympian Sam Kendricks, a pole vaulter from Oxford, Mississippi, being denied the opportunity to compete at the Tokyo Olympics after a single positive COVID-19 test. Kendricks had tested negative three times before the positive test. After entering quarantine, Kendricks took another COVID-19 test that returned a negative result.
View his full remarks, as delivered below:
Madam President - I rise today pointing out an injustice done by the authorities running the Tokyo Olympics.
This morning, Americans learned the news that Sam Kendricks, an American double world champion pole vaulter from Oxford, Mississippi, has been shut out of competing at the Tokyo Olympics after a positive COVID-19 test today.
Almost certainly a false positive COVID-19 test.
This is an injustice that can still be rectified if the Olympic Committee will be fair.
For those who don’t know Sam, he’s an alum of the University of Mississippi – Ole Miss – where he took back to back NCAA championships before launching his professional career.
He won the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2016 and went on to the Rio Olympics, where he took home the bronze medal.
Then again, you probably do remember Sam Hendricks. He’s the pole vaulter who stopped mid-run in the 2016 Olympics to stand and salute for his national anthem.
That’s Sam Kendricks, Olympic Champion from the state of Mississippi.
He’s made his school, his state, and his nation very proud.
By all accounts, he was expected to be a contender for the Gold medal this year.
But after testing negative for the COVID virus three times, Sam received a positive test result yesterday. The timeframe was different in Tokyo, but it was Thursday.
And under the International Olympic Committee rules, he was immediately disqualified from competition – even though he had previously tested negative three times, even though he has already had the coronavirus, and even though a follow up test administered according to U.S. Olympic standards came up negative. The rules are you got to wait six days. Well, guess what? His competition is Friday and adherence to hidebound rules like that will bar him from the Olympics.
With no consideration for the fact that his test, one among thousands of tests administered daily, may very well have been a fluke!
As Sam told the world, he’s not sick. He’s not displaying symptoms. He’s already had COVID-19 and should be immune. And again he tested according to U.S.A. Track and Field team tests immediately after getting this false positive.
Obviously, the fair thing for the Olympic Committee to do would be to follow up immediately on another test to verify whether all these negatives were correct and, undoubtedly, they were.
But the powers that be won’t allow Sam Kendricks to get an official follow up test. No, according to protocols, he must wait six days. Then he can have a follow up test, which no doubt would show that he doesn’t have the coronavirus.
What’s magic about six days? What about the young athlete? What about fundamental fairness?
As Sam Kendricks father said – these athletes “travel too far, work for too many years, make too many sacrifices not to confirm” a positive test. A very inexpensive thing to do.
I agree with Mr. Kendricks. These athletes should be given a confirming test – one test to minimize the chances of a false positive.
But that is not the way the Olympic authorities in Japan see it.
My question is this, Mr. President. What is the health risk of a follow up test? How could it possibly hurt anyone or anything to make sure you’ve got it right when you tell a young American he can’t compete for his nation in the Olympics?
Mr. President, I’m not just disappointed. I am outraged.
Outraged that a young athlete is unfairly missing out on his chance to show his talent to the world and win a gold medal on behalf of his country.
Aghast that a proud global tradition like the Olympics – a celebration of sport, competition, and international cooperation - has been reduced to testing protocols, rigid rules that are fundamentally unfair, inflexible rules that assume there is no such thing as a false positive.
I send my best wishes and congratulations to Sam Kendricks and his family for the good grace they have displayed in the face of this unfair and pointless disqualification. And, allow me to state emphatically that I am not willing to be so gracious. If this actions stands – and I hope it will not stand – this hidebound decision by the decision-makers in Tokyo should make them ashamed of themselves.
Mr. President, it is not too late. Even today – it is Friday morning in Tokyo – even today, the Olympic Committee, use common sense and fairness. It is Friday morning in Tokyo. When the sun comes up, give Sam Kendricks a confirming test and allow this young man to represent his country.
And I yield the floor.