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Athletes Will Have To Put On Their Own Medals At This Year's Olympic Games

American gold medalist Kyle Frederick Snyder receives his medal at the end of the men's 97-kilogram freestyle wrestling event during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Toshifumi Kitamura
AFP via Getty Images
American gold medalist Kyle Frederick Snyder receives his medal at the end of the men's 97-kilogram freestyle wrestling event during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

With just nine days left until this year's Summer Olympics begin in Tokyo, the coronavirus pandemic has forced a change to yet another longstanding tradition of the Games.

Out is the traditional, familiar medal presentation, where athletes, standing atop a podium, dip their heads as dignitaries drape gold, silver or bronze medals over their necks.

In: a contactless medal ceremony.

"The medals will not be given around the neck," Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said on Wednesday. "They will be presented to the athlete on a tray, and then the athlete will take the medal him or herself."

Bach announced the changes in a conference call with international reporters, according to The Associated Press.

"It will be made sure that the person who will put the medal on tray will do so only with disinfected gloves so that the athlete can be sure that nobody touched them before," he said.

Additionally, he said, there will be no handshakes or hugs during the medal ceremonies.

COVID-19 cases are rising ahead of the Tokyo Games

The announcement comes as this year's Olympic Games are set to open amid a state of emergency in Japan and without spectators at events in the capital.

With the opening ceremony just nine days away, cases in Japan have begun to tick up, sparking anxiety about the arrival of thousands of athletes, staff and media.

According to the IOC, more than 8,000 Olympic-related personnel have arrived in Japan over the last two weeks. All were subject to a screening regimen, including pre-departure tests and tests upon arrival. The IOC said that about 85% of athletes and officials who will live in the Olympic Village are vaccinated.

The IOC has reported three positive cases in Tokyo

Of those who have arrived in Japan, the IOC announced three positive cases, all of whom have been isolated and any close contacts subjected to "relevant quarantine measures."

The pre-departure screenings have delayed the arrival of some participants, including nearly the entire Refugee Olympic Team after a team official tested positive before departing for Tokyo. The team is made up of 29 refugee athletes, including those whose families fled Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan and Venezuela.

The athletes and team officials had gathered together this week in Doha, Qatar, for a welcome ceremony, after which the official tested positive. The other team members in Qatar tested negative but were unable to travel due to their exposure.

"The IOC, in cooperation with the Qatar Olympic Committee, is supporting the team and evaluating the situation," the IOC said in a statement Wednesday. "The next steps will be communicated once they are decided."

Two other athletes on the Refugee Olympic Team had not attended the welcome ceremony in Doha and are due to arrive Wednesday in Tokyo.

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.