Olympic Village

The coronavirus has forced a number of social distancing measures at the Summer Games, but the recycled cardboard beds provided by the organizers are not among them.

Competitors at the Tokyo Olympics discovered something unusual about the beds in the Olympic Village: They were made of cardboard.

Some shared photos on social media of the modular bed frames, which are made by the Japanese company Airweave and are recyclable. Organizers say that for the first time, the beds at the Games will be made almost entirely from renewable materials.

But at a time when the coronavirus is spreading and Olympic organizers, concerned about the transmission of the virus, are trying to prevent close contact as much as possible, the unusual bed frames have led some to speculate that another motive is behind them.

Paul Chelimo, an American distance runner, suggested on Twitter that the beds could not support more than one person and were “intended to avoid intimacy between athletes.” Soon the beds were being called “anti-sexual” on social media.

Rhys McClenaghan, a gymnast from Ireland, called the claim “fake news.” A video he posted on Twitter shows him jumping on his bed to demonstrate that it can withstand vigorous activity. The official Olympics Twitter account reposted Mr. McClenaghan’s video, adding, “Thanks for debunking the myth.”

The plan for 18,000 beds and mattresses – 8,000 will also be used for the Paralympics, which begin next month – was announced before the pandemic and social distancing restrictions, and they are more durable than they appear.

“Cardboard beds are actually stronger than those made of wood or steel,” Airweave said in a statement Monday.

The modular mattresses are customizable for athletes of all body types, and the beds can hold up to 440 pounds, enough for even the most imposing Olympians.

But Olympic officials still prefer that athletes sleep alone in Tokyo and stay away from each other in all other places. The Olympics safety manual advises participants to “avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact, such as hugs, high-fives, and handshakes.”

To further discourage fun, the sale of alcohol will be prohibited. Condoms, which have been distributed at the Olympics since the 1988 Seoul Games, will be provided to encourage safe sex, but they will be only a third more than the record 450,000 handed out at the Rio Games in 2016. And Olympic officials have made it clear that they are not intended for use by athletes until after they return to their home countries.

The restrictions reflect widespread concern about the coronavirus in the run-up to the Olympics, especially as the highly contagious Delta variant is causing outbreaks in Asia. A strict testing regime has revealed dozens of positive results this month as more than 18,000 people travel to Tokyo for the Games.

Over the weekend, officials confirmed the first three cases in the athletes’ village, including one organizer and two participants. Some athletes withdrew from the Games because of safety concerns, while others, such as U.S. teen tennis player Coco Gauf, withdrew from the Games after testing positive.

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