Tired of the Trash Talk

Published on August 14th, 2016

By Adam Kilgore, Washington Post
The sailors hauled in their boats and packed up their sails Friday at dusk, cold and tired, accomplished and determined. Christ the Redeemer loomed in the distance, Sugarloaf cast a mighty backdrop and the reflection of Copacabana lights shimmered on Guanabara Bay.

All of them in some way had arrived at the culmination of their life’s work, in a place of breathtaking beauty, and more work lay ahead in the pursuit of an enormous goal. Then came the questions about all the crap in the water.

The location of the 2016 Games not only forced Olympic sailors to compete at great apparent risk to their health, but also to sail with a cloud overhead. Months of Associated Press reporting and scientific testing revealed grossly unsanitary conditions in Guanabara Bay, the product of sewage and garbage draining from the city into the water.

The effects on the athletes’ health will be determined, but already the condition of the bay distracted from the competition itself, to the frustration of some competitors.

“People have worked so hard to get here, and then all the attention is on the water rather than the amazing achievements people have had to get here and what people’s stories,” said 49er racer Joe Morris, an Annapolis native. “Otherwise, for us, it’s really like sailing anywhere else.”

The sailors have been training for months, if not years, in and around Guanabara Bay, and for them the water safety and precautions necessary had become old news. The issue resurfaced Friday when Belgian sailor Evi Van Acker, a 2012 bronze medalist in the radial event, reported losing energy during an event Wednesday owing to symptoms from an illness, which her coach, Wil van Bladel, attributed to training in the water in July.

Other sailors, though, said they had not encountered effects from pollution and that the water quality had improved since their training camps over the summer. Many seemed to resent questions about the conditions, feeling they overshadowed their event. When one reporter mentioned Van Acker’s name, fellow Belgian Yannick Lefebvre huffed, “Questions about her, ask her.”

“I don’t see any problem,” Chinese sailor Lijia Xu said. “Of course everybody gets ill. I’ve gotten ill during the three-month total training period here. It’s common illness. I got diarrhea or cold and fever. I wouldn’t say it’s related to the water. It’s just normal illness everybody will get once or twice a year. Evi, she’s just a bit unlucky to have that during the regatta. So I wouldn’t blame the water. I would say it’s quite normal.”

The water may not be normal, but the sailors have grown accustomed to taking appropriate measures. – Full Story.

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