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Rio Games: Safe Sailing Requires Protection

Published on March 5th, 2016

Obsessive hand washing, mouthwashes, downing cola after races and popping garlic tablets are just some of the precautions Britain’s Olympic sailing team will be taking for the Games in Rio.

With the polluted waters of Guanabara Bay a concern and the Zika virus also a worry, the athletes are taking no chances as they seek to improve on Britain’s 2012 home tally of five medals and regain the advantage they lost to Australia.

Giles Scott, who has taken over the men’s Finn single-handed class mantle from sailing’s most successful Olympian Ben Ainslie, said the focus is on getting as much time on the water as possible in Rio to help conquer the vagaries of complex tides, flukey winds and floating garbage.

However, one of the main concerns for Scott, who will be competing at his first Olympics, and other British sailors is making sure that they avoid getting ill from the water and they have a strict regime to limit the risks.

“(It’s) really simple stuff… like bathroom hygiene but all the time. We get that nailed and then we can focus in on the sailing,” the 28-year-old, who is world number one in the heavyweight Finn, told Reuters ahead of the RYA Dinghy Show.

Assuming they stay healthy there is then the danger of getting plastic bags and other garbage, which washes into the bay along with the flows of raw sewage, tangled with their boats.

“That is a bit of worry for us, but it is just going to be part of the Rio Olympics unfortunately,” said Scott, who is taking a break from Ainslie’s America’s Cup team to concentrate on the “personal battles” he anticipates at Rio.

Scott is expecting to see strong competition from New Zealand, French, Croatian, Dutch and Slovenian rivals with Britain having a less experienced team than the one that competed in 2012.

Windsurfer Bryony Shaw said avoiding the debris which can be found floating below the surface in parts of the sailing zone in the bay “could be the difference between winning medals or not”.

If rubbish does get tangled in her RS:X windsurfer’s fin the board comes to a complete standstill, Shaw, a bronze medalist at Beijing in 2008 and current world number one, told Reuters.

The mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has been linked to thousands of birth defects in Brazil, is just one of many preoccupations for Shaw, 32.

She will be taking garlic tablets, in addition to using insect repellent as part of a “protection package” to stay fit in her quest for a gold medal.

Rio’s varied and challenging conditions will mean that “the person who wins in Rio will be the most versatile sailor, the most adaptable sailor,” Shaw added.

For Hannah Mills, 28, and Saskia Clark, 36, who won silver in the 470 dinghy class at London 2012, it is also important not to be distracted by health concerns or the hazards of trash.

The pair were mugged at knife point while training in Rio in 2014 and are still “not comfortable” about security but now take greater precautions. They are confident the authorities will do all they can to make it safe for athletes during the Games.

Their main focus is on factors they can control and getting “on top of the podium” in what they told Reuters will be their last Olympics together as Rio will be Clark’s final Games.

“We want to give it absolutely everything these last six months to make sure we go there and give it our best performance,” Mills said.

Source: Alexander Smith/Reuters

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