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First Shipment of Olympics Horses Quarantined

June 24, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ Some of the world’s most talented athletes have arrived for the Olympic Games, but they have to pass tests before they are allowed to compete.

The first 26 horses from European nations competing in the games arrived Sunday aboard a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt, Germany, inside 10-foot containers that look like horse trailers without wheels. Their hooves never touched the ground as they were immediately quarantined for 36 hours at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport’s equine center.

The horses _ nine from Germany, six from Italy, four from Sweden, four from Hungary, two from Belgium and one from Denmark _ have been at the center of an international equestrian controversy for months. The quarantine has been a touchy and internationally contentious issue for Olympic organizers.

After months of sometimes rancorous debate, the International Equestrian Federation reluctantly agreed earlier this year to the quarantine plan. A waiver was granted to allow 20 infected horses to enter the country for the games.

But none of the horses that arrived Sunday tested positive in Europe for piroplasmosis or three other diseases that would disqualify them from competition. Piroplasmosis has been largely eradicated in the United States, and horse owners and agriculture officials have expressed concern that allowing infected horses into the country for the Olympics could spread the virus.

``Because the diseases have incubation periods, they are quarantined and tested a second time in case they have been recently exposed,″ said Dr. Ed Arza, a U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian. ``We are hopeful that we will not find any positives because these are the best athletes in the world and have been taken care of very well.″

A total of 230 horses will be transported to Atlanta in nine shipments, Arza said.

``Most of the horses, if not all of them, are eating and drinking well, which is an indication that they are feeling quite comfortable,″ he said.

``The horses are not allowed to touch the ground until they are in the center,″ said Mel Torre, a Lufthansa cargo spokesman. ``The containers are loaded onto dollies and rolled into the equine facility. At that point, the containers are brought right up to a special ramp at the main door of the building and the horses are unloaded.″

After 36 hours, the horses will be transferred to the new Georgia International Horse Park in Rockdale County southeast of Atlanta, where they will stay during the games.

``Most of the horses had good temperaments, although some of them had to be calmed down,″ said Gary Gavora, a Lufthansa cargo agent. ``But it wasn’t like a box of cats or dogs left alone for the whole flight. They were pampered the entire time.″

Lufthansa, which has flown sharks, polar bears and rhinos, transported equestrian teams to the Summer Games at Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona in 1992.

A 20-horse barn for the infected horses will be treated and inspected repeatedly to eliminate ticks, as will the venue in Rockdale County where equestrian events will be held.

Infected horses will be barred from the cross-country competition and federal and state agriculture officials will maintain 24-hour-a-day surveillance of the barn.

Veterinarians also will be in the field every day during the Olympics to ensure that the virus is not spread into Georgia’s tick population.

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