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Norovirus Outbreak Craps Up Track And Field World Championships

Photo: Martin Meissner/AP

This afternoon in London, South Africa’s Olympic hero Wayde van Niekerk coasted in under 44 seconds to win the 400-meter world championship with ease, letting up before he reached the finish line and still coming within a second of his own world record. He barely celebrated after he won, partially because he is trying to do the double and take 200-meter gold as well, but also because the race was missing his quickest rival.


Isaac Makwala of Botswana was the only runner who could have challenged the dominant van Niekerk, but he missed the race after coming down with an “infectious disease.” Makwala was apparently barfing in a stadium medical room after 200-meter heats earlier this week, and officials forced him out before the 400-meter final today with a 48-hour medical quarantine after he was apparently diagnosed with norovirus. He’s probably the best 200-meter runner in the world, but he’ll leave London without any medals.

Makwala’s team said he was in fine shape to run and he even showed up at the stadium before the race, only for security guards to prevent him from entering the stadium before taking him back to his hotel. Michael Johnson spoke out in favor of Makwala and suggested that perhaps the IAAF was overly cautious with him because van Niekerk is an emerging superstar.

“There’s a lot of inconsistency here and the elephant in the room is that Wayde van Nierkerk is an IAAF favourite,” added Johnson, “a fan favourite, a favourite of everyone, an Olympic champion, a world record holder, a world champion, and now the only challenger has been pulled out of both of those races. Conspiracy theories abound.”

According to public health officials, two people have been diagnosed with norovirus and they suspect that an outbreak has caused about 30 more illnesses among athletes and support staff at the world championships.

The diagnosis comes after athletes and support staff from the Botswanan, German, Canadian, Irish and Puerto Rican teams staying at the Tower hotel, near Tower Bridge, were taken ill over several days. Some, according to reports, have been put into quarantine.

Competition organisers said on Monday that the illnesses were a result of gastroenteritis, but Public Health England (PHE) on Tuesday said that laboratory tests had confirmed that two infections were caused by norovirus. The bug is easily spread, partly because it can survive for several days outside the body.


The hotel in question has denied responsibility for the outbreak, although several athletes (including most of the German squad) have left the hotel. There are still several high-profile events left in London, and hopefully the rest are less crappy.

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