U.S swimmer Michael Andrew didn't wear a mask behind the scenes at the Tokyo Olympics after swimming his final on Friday.
The unvaccinated twenty-two-year-old was seen without a mask when he stopped to speak with reporters in the mixed zone, an area where journalists interview athletes after their events.
This comes as a shock as most swimmers wear face coverings outside of the pool and media and other workers are required to sport a face covering at the Tokyo Aquatics center. But the U.S Olympic and Paralympic Committee said Andrew didn't violate COVID-19 protocol as athletes are able to remove their masks during interviews.
"For me, it's pretty hard to breathe in after kind of sacrificing my body in the water, so I feel like my health is a little more tied to being able to breathe than protecting what's coming out of my mouth," Andrew explained after being asked why he chose not to wear a mask.
"I think it's great that there are procedures but at the end of the day, all of us here have been under quarantine and in the same testing protocol, so there's a level of safety that's comfortable when we're racing." he continued.
Andrew was to be returning on Friday night to swim in the fifty free preliminaries after finishing 5th in the 200-meter individual medley.
The Tokyo organizing committee's policy itself states that following a competition, all athletes must wear masks. But it also states that masks can be removed in the mixed zone, helping in the conclusion that Andrew didn't violate any policy.
"Michael has been reminded of the Games policy and established COVID mitigation protocols, and has acknowledged the importance of following all guidelines intended to keep athletes and the community safe," the United States Olympic and Paralympic committee said in a statement.
But the swimmer was put under fire as the Japanese government recently declared the capital and several other regions are now under a state of emergency during the games.
One of the precautions the government asked to be kept in place was to: "Ask workers to wear a mask anytime, anywhere, especially during conversations."
And if this isn't enough, the swimmer also announced he will not be vaccinated, which really tipped people over the edge.
"My reason behind it is, for one, it was kind of the last moment, I didn't want to put anything in my body that I didn't know how I would potentially react to," Andrew explained during a pre-Olympic training camp in Hawaii earlier this year.
"As an athlete on the elite level, everything we do is very calculated and understood. For me, in the training cycle, especially leading up to trials, I didn't want to risk any days out. There were periods where you take a vaccine, you have to deal with some days off."
Michael Andrew, the highest profile unvaccinated American Olympian, refused to wear a mask in the mixed zone. Every other US swimmer I've seen all week has worn one. pic.twitter.com/xwVFJGpkmL
— Christine Brennan (@cbrennansports) July 30, 2021
Christine Brennan, a sports columnist for USA Today, said on Twitter: "Michael Andrew, the highest-profile unvaccinated American Olympian, refused to wear a mask in the mixed zone. Every other U.S swimmer I've seen all week has worn one."
Her tweet gained 1.3k retweets and 1.4k likes with many people commenting on the matter.
"And then he lost, as he should," one person commented. While another person said: "He shouldn't be in Tokyo."
"Karma is a bi*ch," another wrote.