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Northwest Olympic Hopefuls Racing To Rio, Undeterred By Zika Virus

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
Katie Mackey of the Brooks Beasts Track Club in Seattle won the 1500 meter race at the Brooks PR Invitational on June 18, 2016.

A bunch of world-class golfers and some men's U.S. basketball team nominees have announced they'll skip the Rio Olympics. Concerns about contracting the Zika virus are the most common excuse. By contrast, American track and field athletes seem eager to make the U.S. team for Brazil.

More than 1,000 elite runners and throwers are descending on Eugene for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials, starting Friday. A number of the Olympic running hopefuls train in the Northwest.

Katie Mackey, a middle-distance runner from Seattle, did say Zika is on her mind.

"I don't think that would deter anybody from going, at least not on my end. I'll go and be careful,” she said. “There are always risks when you're travelling internationally."

Mackey is entered in the 1500-meter and 5000-meter races at the Olympic trials.

She said she expects "a lot of precautions" to be taken in Rio, from bug spray, mosquito netting to covering up outdoors.

When the Olympic Games take place in August, it'll be winter in Brazil, the lull in mosquito season.

Technically, the 2016 U.S. Olympic track and field trials started Thursday with the 20-kilometer race walk. That was contested on a course through the streets of Salem, Oregon. Staff Sergeant John Nunn of the U.S. Army won the men's race and Maria Michta-Coffey, who is sponsored by Seattle-based Oiselle, topped the women's side.

The rest of the Olympic track and field trials take place at Hayward Field in Eugene and run through July 10.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.