Howard Grotts won’t add his name to the long list of athletes skipping the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Concerns about Zika virus may have scared off some of the world’s top basketball, golf and tennis stars, but Durango’s Grotts won’t let anything keep him from mountain biking for the United States in August in Brazil.
Zika is spread by mosquitoes and is known to cause birth defects. It’s also said to cause temporary paralysis in adults.
“I’ve heard the virus itself really isn’t too bad,” Grotts said. “It’s an issue for pregnant women. I’m not a woman, and I’m not intending to get any woman pregnant.”
Several high-profile athletes such as golf’s Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth have cited Zika as a reason to miss this year’s Olympics. American road cyclist Tejay van Garderen will skip the Rio Olympics citing concerns over Zika with a pregnant wife at home. Even television personalities such as NBC’s Savannah Guthrie have ruled out making he trip because of the virus.
“I think we are going to be relatively well taken care of,” Grotts said. “We will be in air conditioned buildings, drinking bottled water and not tap water, that kind of thing. I’m not too concerned.”
Grotts had a chance to visit Brazil last October to test out the courses he will compete on Aug. 20-21 during the final two days of the Olympic Games. Though he was largely sheltered from his surroundings, he said it was easy to sense the problems in the country rife with turmoil.
“The most significant thing is the amount of poverty you see down there,” Grotts said. “That really makes you notice that the Olympics is kind of this weird privileged thing to do. The mountain bike course is right next to a pretty poor area, favelas they call them.”
Those favelas, what Brazil calls its slums and shanty towns, are known for violence. Tensions have only grown the last year with political unrest and a financial crisis that has touched every aspect of Brazilian life.
“This is the biggest thing for mountain biking, but then right next to us are people probably just struggling day to day,” Grotts said. “You have to keep these things in perspective. Obviously, I’m going out there and racing as hard as I can, and I think sport in general has super good inspirational qualities. It’s a matter of using that tool as best you can.”
Grotts said the Olympics are structured in a way where an athlete doesn’t have to have any contact with the public. A bus transports the mountain bikers from the Olympic village to the course each day.
“But you can’t help but notice it when you look out the windows and you see, yeah, Brazil has some issues going on,” he said.