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Coronavirus 'no joke' Olympic gold medallist van der Burgh warns

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Los Angeles (AFP)

Olympic champion swimmer Cameron van der Burgh said Sunday that he had contracted COVID-19, offering insight into how coronavirus infection could affect 2020 Olympic hopefuls.

"I have been struggling with Covid-19 for 14 days today," South Africa's van der Burgh wrote on Twitter. "By far the worst virus I have ever endured despite being a healthy individual with strong lungs (no smoking/sport), living a healthy lifestyle and being young (least at risk demographic)."

Van der Burgh, the 2012 Olympic 100m breaststroke world champion and former world record-holder, retired from the sport in 2018.

A still-fit 31, he remained among those least likely to be severely impacted by the deadly virus.

But he said the debilitating effects of the illness were lingering.

"Although the most severe symptoms (extreme fever) have eased, I am still struggling with serious fatigue and a residual cough that I can't shake," van der Burgh wrote. "Any physical activity like walking leaves me exhausted for hours."

Van der Burgh followed his London triumph with a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and retired after winning gold in the 2018 short course world championships.

He said contracting the virus would be a severe blow to any athlete in training.

"The loss in body conditioning has been immense and can only feel for the athletes that contract Covid-19 as they will suffer a great loss of current conditioning through the last training cycle. Infection closer to competition being the worst."

As the International Olympic Committee faced mounting pressure to delay the 2020 Tokyo Games in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, van der Burgh feared that Olympic hopefuls would put their health at risk trying to prepare.

"Athletes will continue to train as there is no clarification re summer Games and thus are exposing themselves to unnecessary risk -- and those that do contract will try rush back to training most likely enhancing/extending the damage/recovery time," he wrote. "Please, look after yourself everyone! Health comes first -- COVID-19 is no joke!"

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