US Olympian Casey Dawson borrowed skates after long trip to Beijing

BEIJING — The first flight of Casey Dawson’s crazy trip left Salt Lake City, Utah around 8 a.m. local time on Sunday. It was around 10 a.m. in Atlanta, where he first traveled. Or 4 p.m. in Paris, where he had to change planes. Or 11 p.m. in Beijing, where he was supposed to run in, oh, about 44 hours.

And if you think that’s crazy, here’s the kicker.

“I arrived this morning and all my bags weren’t there,” said the American speed skater.

This is relevant because these bags carried, among other things, his skates.

“It’s the icing on the cake of this whole situation,” Dawson said, shaking his head.

Considering all this, it’s no surprise that the 21-year-old felt like he had won the moment he even stepped onto the starting line. More than three weeks after testing positive for COVID-19, and after weeks of alternating positive and negative tests, he repeatedly wondered if he would be able to compete in Beijing.

Finally, after taking about 45 PCR tests, Dawson got enough negative results in a row to board a plane. He ran 11,343 miles around the world, then 1,500 meters around the national speed skating rink in Beijing, while wearing skates borrowed from a Latvian. He finished penultimate in the event. He doesn’t care much.

“Going to the line was the most important thing for me,” Dawson said. “I didn’t think I was going to hit the line in the first place.”

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On Thursday, the Utah resident wrote on Instagram that he would not be competing in his two individual races. He didn’t think it would be possible.

For several days, Dawson had believed he would only need two negative COVID-19 tests taken 24 hours apart to travel, under guidelines in pandemic ‘playbooks’ released by Beijing organizers. 2022. But he said the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee later told him he would actually need four negatives in a row.

“They lit it on me,” he said.

USOPC spokespersons did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dawson described the past few weeks as something of an emotional pendulum, as one test came back negative and then the next positive. Then negative. Then positive. Back and forth as his agitation grew.

“Once I tested negative, I was riding high,” he said. “But when I test positive, I’ll be on the floor, just crying.”

Along the way, Dawson also had to deal with a lab problem. He said he took his COVID-19 tests at a Chinese government-approved lab, but the lab was abruptly delisted, voiding his test results. That problem alone set it back “a few days,” he said.

As the tests piled up, Dawson’s first scheduled individual race — the 5,000 meters — came and went. He scrolled through Instagram, seeing his teammates post images from the Olympic Village. The 1,500 closed in.

Then, finally, the fourth test came back negative – and his run to Beijing began.

Dawson flew across two US time zones, from Salt Lake City to Atlanta, then red-eye back-to-back in Paris and later Beijing. He said the support staff gave him some simple isometric exercises to keep the blood flowing. He slept a little, but not much. His last flight landed at Beijing Capital International Airport just before 6:50 a.m., almost 12 hours to the minute before his run.

“Usually when you travel that long – I think we waited three days before skating. Maybe two,” said American teammate Emery Lehman. “So for him to come in, touch the ice and then skate within 12 hours of landing – and the time change. And the jet lag. And sitting on a plane for that long? That’s something that I’m glad I didn’t.”

After landing at the airport, Dawson took another PCR test before going to collect his luggage. He had packed a Team USA speed skating suit in his carry-on, just in case, but most of his gear was in his checked baggage – which was now nowhere to be found.

Dawson headed to the village, knocked on his suite door around 9 a.m., and waited (again) for the results of a PCR test. His coach, meanwhile, began looking for skates, eventually contacting Latvian skater’s coach Haralds Silovs, whose skate preference was comparable to Dawson’s. “I’m super grateful,” Dawson said.

Opposing skaters described the arrangement as achievable but far from ideal.

“No two pairs of blades are the same,” explained British skater Cornelius Kersten. “Everything changes how you feel and how you skate. … Even changing shoes from the same bootmaker will feel completely different.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Dawson finished 28th out of 29 skaters in the field, about six seconds slower than his personal best.

Speaking to reporters after the race, Dawson said he only ran on adrenaline. He still didn’t know where his luggage was, guessing that it might be stuck in Paris. Hopefully, he said, he gets to Beijing before next week when he competes in the team pursuit – and maybe helps the United States win a medal.

At the moment, of course, all this is superfluous. After his 45 COVID-19 tests and 44 hours of travel, all that really matters is that he was successful on the ice.

“Whether I get my bags back or not,” Dawson said, “I’m still an Olympian.”

Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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