BEIJING: Russian and Canadian women ice hockey players wore medical masks Monday for their Beijing Winter Games match after COVID results failed to arrive in time, in a bizarre pandemic-inspired chapter to the Games.
Canada ran out 6-1 winners, but only after a delay of one hour when the Russians found they had no opponents to play.
"We were just waiting for (Russia's PCR) results to come back and once they came back we were comfortable," said Natalie Spooner.
"Our coaches and medical staff were not going to put us in a situation where we would not feel safe.
"This is probably a cool story in the long run. We can say we were at the COVID Olympics and we even wore a mask in a game."
The Olympics in the Chinese capital are taking place in a COVID-secure "closed loop" bubble where everyone must wear a mask at all times -- except, usually, when they are competing.
Everyone in the bubble must also have a COVID test each day.
"Pursuant to discussions between the two teams, they both agreed that the match would start with both sides wearing masks," the International Olympic Committee said in a statement to AFP.
The Russian players took their masks off in the third period.
"The results came in and they were negative and they said they were going to take their masks off," said Spooner.
"We figured we had them (the masks) on for two periods so why not keep being extra safe for one period."
The Russian players said they had done nothing wrong and that they had their daily COVID test at their normal time of 8:00am.
"It is out of our control. The Chinese at the laboratory, they were not ready to give our PCR test results," said Anna Shibanova, adding that all the Russian players tested negative for COVID.
Her team-mate Daria Gredzen said that "we did everything right".
"We were preparing for the game as usual. We came out, did the warm-up and were about to go on the ice," she said.
"And when we already came out on the ice, we found out that the other team was not there."
Shibanova said she hoped she'd never have to play in a mask again.
"It is not a nice feeling," she said. "There's not enough air."
There have been 387 positive cases since January 23 in the bubble, according to official figures, among them an unknown number of players.
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