American cyclist Tejay van Garderen has withdrawn his name from Olympic consideration due to concerns about the Zika virus and the potential effects it could have on his pregnant wife.
Health officials have confirmed that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head-size and incomplete brain development, as well as other developmental disorders.
“If [my wife] were not pregnant right now, assuming I was selected, I would go,” van Garderen, 27, told CyclingTips. “But the fact is, she is pregnant. If we were just going to start trying, I’d say we could start trying six months after the Olympics. But when she has a baby in her belly, I don’t want to take any chances.”
While USA Cycling has not yet selected athletes for the two spots in the men’s Olympic road race, van Garderen (who made the 2012 Olympic team) was considered a strong contender, according to CyclingTips. The two-time winner of the USA Pro Challenge recently informed the national federation that he did not wish to be considered for the Olympic team.
Van Garderen is the first American athlete known to have withdrawn from consideration for Rio due to concerns about the virus, according to the Washington Post.
Brazil is widely considered to the epicenter of the Zika virus, which is transmitted by mosquitos but can also be transmitted sexually. The World Health Organization has advised pregnant women not to travel to areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission, including Rio de Janeiro. The organization also advised the sexual partners of pregnant women returning from areas where the virus is circulating to ” to practise safer sex or abstain throughout the pregnancy.”
Van Garderen’s wife is expecting the couple’s second child in October. He said his decision to skip the Games came from his desire to prioritize his family over his Olympic ambitions.
“People are probably going to have different opinions on this. I’m sure they will think what they are going to think, but the fact is, if anything were to happen, I couldn’t live with myself,” he told CyclingTips. “I’m much more at ease with this decision than I would be if I were trying to go to the Olympics.”
Van Garderen is far from being the only athlete to voice concerns about how the Zika outbreak could affect the some 500,000 athletes, fans and spectators set to descend upon Rio in August. Hope Solo, Pau Gasol and Serena Williams have all shared their concerns about the virus and five of the world’s top golfers have backed out of the games.
Last week, a group of 150 health experts called for the Olympics to be postponed or relocated because of Zika. The World Health Organization responded to these concerns, starting ” cancelling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus.”