Sprinter Usain Bolt may not be adding his voice to the growing chorus of athletes and activists expressing concern over the health conditions in Rio de Janeiro as the Summer Olympics inch closer.
While a medley of potential crises hover over August’s Games, Zika virus -- the mosquito-borne disease known to cause, among other side effects, serious fetal brain defects -- has led athletes from around the globe to become increasingly wary of traveling to Brazil.
Their worries are more than understandable. Reuters reported last month that the nation had “registered 91,387 likely cases of the Zika virus from February until April 2,” with Rio’s region coming in with the most likely cases at 35,505. Moreover, that same report claims there have been 4,908 suspected or confirmed cases nationwide of microcephaly -- one of the Zika-linked birth defects, wherein a baby’s head and brain are much smaller than normal.
All that is why some have cringed at the nonchalant remark Bolt made during an interview with NBC’s Peter Alexander, which aired Wednesday on the "Today" show.
Asked if he “worri[es] about Zika” heading into Rio 2016, Bolt began on steady, safe ground -- “Hopefully, by the time I get there, they’ll have it under control. I’m sure they’ll put things in place to sort it out. So I’m not really stressed right now” -- before some nudging on Alexander’s part sparked the more flippant response from the runner.
Alexander: “Your mates on your team tell me that the mosquitoes usually stay away from you. What up with that -- why are the mosquitoes intimidated by Usain Bolt?"
Bolt: “Because I’m fast. They can’t catch me.”
According to Complex, Bolt runs at a speed close to 28 miles per hour, while a mosquito flies just over one mile per hour. So while he was, technically, correct, the response drew criticism online, as people became upset at the glib take on an anything-but-comic health crisis.
Bolt undoubtedly meant no offense -- and if he had had the time to think it over, he likely would’ve never uttered the joke at all. Let’s all just hope that not only Bolt but everyone else traveling to and living in Brazil this summer is also able to evade the virus. During a two-week event predicated on international cohesion, one of the last things we need is continual concern over increasing contagion.