Rio de Janeiro
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New AP test: Rio’s Olympic water consistently contaminated

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Olympic waters in this city are more widely contaminated by sewage than previously known and pose a greater threat to athletes’ health ahead of next year’s games, according to new results from tests commissioned by The Associated Press.

Expanded analysis of Rio’s waterways shows that high viral and in some cases bacterial counts are found not just along shorelines where raw sewage runs into waterbodies, but far offshore where athletes will compete in sailing, rowing and canoeing.

That means there is no dilution factor in the bay or lagoon where events will take place.

“It’s going to increase the exposure of the people who come into contact with those waters,” said Kristina Mena, a U.S. expert in waterborne viruses. “If we saw those levels here in the United States on beaches, officials would likely close those beaches.”

In July, the AP reported that its first round of tests showed viruses causing stomach and respiratory illnesses and more rarely heart and brain inflammation at levels up to 1.7 million times what would be considered highly alarming in the U.S. or Europe.

The report prompted sports officials to promise they would do their own viral testing. Those pledges took on further urgency in August, after pre-Olympic rowing and sailing events in Rio led to illnesses among athletes nearly double the acceptable limit in the U.S.

Nevertheless, Olympic and World Health Organization officials have flip-flopped on promises to carry out their own viral testing in the wake of the AP’s July report.

At issue are two kinds of testing.

Brazilian, Olympic and WHO officials now say Brazil needs only to conduct testing for bacterial “markers” of pollution to determine water quality. That’s the standard for nations around the globe to monitor waterbodies, mostly because it’s been historically easier and cheaper.

“The health and safety of athletes is always a top priority and there is no doubt that water within the field of play meets the relevant standards,” the Rio 2016 Olympic organizing committee said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “Rio 2016 follows the expert advice of the World Health Organization, whose guidelines for Safe Recreational Water Environments recommend classifying water through a regular program of microbial water quality testing.”

However, in recent years technological advances have made it simpler and less expensive to monitor viral levels, too.

Studies dating back decades have shown little to no correlation between the levels of bacteria pathogens in water, which quickly break down in salty and sunny conditions like those in tropical Brazil, and the presence of viruses, which have been shown to last for months, and in some cases years.

Rio’s waterways, like those of many developing nations, are extremely contaminated because most of the city’s sewage is untreated, flowing into Guanabara Bay, the Rodrigo Freitas Lagoon and the famous Copacabana Beach.

Rio won the right to host the Olympics based on a lengthy bid document that promised to clean up the city’s scenic waterways by improving sewage sanitation, a pledge that was intended to be one of the event’s biggest legacies.

Brazilian officials now acknowledge that won’t happen.

The AP’s first published results were based on samples taken along the shores of the lagoon where rowing and canoeing events will be held. Other samples were drawn from the marina where sailors enter the water and in the Copacabana Beach surf, where marathon and triathlon swimming will take place. Ipanema Beach, popular with tourists and where many of the expected 350,000 foreign visitors will take a dip during the games, was also tested.

Since then, the AP expanded its testing to include offshore sampling sites inside Olympic sailing courses in Guanabara Bay and in the middle of the lagoon where rowing and canoeing lanes were located during recent test events.

Not only has the AP testing since August found the waterbodies to be consistently virus-laden throughout, but it also captured a spike in the bacterial fecal coliforms in the lagoon – to over 16 times the amount permitted under Brazilian law.

Athletes have made efforts to avoid falling ill, from bleaching rowing oars to preemptively taking antibiotics, which have no effect on viruses, to simply hosing off their bodies the second they finish competing.

Despite that, athletes at test events in August still fell ill. The World Rowing Federation reported that 6.7 percent of 567 rowers got sick at a junior championship event in Rio. The International Sailing Federation said just over 7 percent of sailors competing at a mid-August Olympic warm-up event in Guanabara Bay fell ill.

By comparison, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum illness rate for swimming is 3.6 percent – which many experts say is too high.

Offshore water samples taken by the AP for the past three months were 30,000 times higher than what is considered alarming in the U.S. and Europe – at a point 600 meters (yards) offshore and within the Sugarloaf sailing race course; at a spot 1,300 meters (yards) off the shore within the Naval School course; and at a point 200 meters from the shoreline in the Olympic lagoon where rowing lanes are located.

The high levels of sewage-linked pathogens found in the offshore sailing courses “show that … there are many, many points where sewage enters the bay,” said Brazilian virologist Fernando Spilki, coordinator of the environmental quality program at Feevale University in southern Brazil, who is conducting monthly tests for the AP.

“These pathogens we’re looking for, especially the viruses, are able to migrate in the currents in a big way,” he said.

VIDEO: Aerial Rio Olympic Park progress update

Simone Biles halfway to fourth straight U.S. all-around title

Simone Biles
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — When U.S. women’s national team coordinator Martha Karolyi met with Simone Biles to map out the three-time world gymnastics champion’s schedule, one designed to keep Biles fresh heading into the Olympics, it was the equivalent of pulling up to an intersection in a Ferrari and letting it idle when the light turned green.

“The plan was to (not) burn her out,” Karolyi said.

Done. Way done.

When Biles stepped onto the floor at the U.S. championships Friday night, it marked just her second all-around competition in eight months. Yet there was no rust. There never seems to be for Biles, whose three-year reign seems poised to continue unabated through the biggest summer of her life and beyond.

Turning each rotation into a showcase for her unmatched talent, Biles posted an eye-popping score of 62.900, well clear of runners up Aly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez and everybody else on the planet.

“It’s all about peaking for the right moment,” Biles said. “I think this is a stepping stone toward it.”

The gap the 19-year-old Texan has created between herself and the rest of the world during a winning streak that’s nearly three years and counting shows no signs of closing. If anything, it’s widening considering her nearest competitors are the four women who will join her on the plane to Brazil in August.

“There’s no one that can catch Simone,” said Raisman after her best night since her return to competition in March, 2015.

Not in the U.S. and certainly not in the rest of the world.

Biles was nearly flawless from the start, her beam routine a 45-second showcase of precision with nary a wobble or even a peak at the floor 4-feet below. Her score of 15.7 is a significant step up from the 15.388 she posted at world championships last fall, an event she won easily. Her floor routine includes a series of hand flourishes that seems as if she’s saying “follow me” and a series of tumbling passes that are the gymnastics version of Michael Jordan at the height of his “airness” prime.

Asked to nitpick her performance and Biles paused. It’s not that she’s perfect — gymnastics doesn’t do perfect anymore — it’s just that she’s as close as anyone has been in a long, long time. While she pointed to nearly imperceptible miscues during her beam dismount and her first vault, even she had to admit there was little else that went wrong.

“I was pretty happy with it,” Biles said.

So was Karolyi, who will have plenty to think about over the next two weeks as she tries to find the right four women to join Biles on the plane to Brazil in August. The one thing that’s not on her mind is the mental state of her star.

“Usually these very talented girls don’t have patience,” Karolyi said. “They’re explosive and full with energy but sometimes they can be annoyed with doing the very same routine.”

Biles hardly looked bored while putting on a show no one else can match. And she wasn’t the only one who looked ready for the stage that awaits in Brazil.

Raisman wanted to “vomit” while starting out on beam, where she won bronze in London four years ago. She didn’t exactly look nervous while putting up a 15.150, something she credited on the poker face she inherited from her father. After beating herself up for months after a poor showing — by her standards anyway — at world championships last fall, Raisman is right back where she was in 2012, maybe even a bit better.

Defending Olympic champion Gabby Douglas, who won the American Cup and in Italy earlier this spring, wasn’t quite as sharp. She wobbled twice on beam and needed a world-class save to stay on at one point. Yet she did to avoid a major deduction, a trait Karolyi welcomes nearly as much as a flawlessly executed routine. Still, her score of 58.9 needs to improve on Sunday (9 p.m. ET, NBC and NBC Sports app) to remove any lingering doubt.

“I just got a little bit relaxed and let things slip,” she said. “I need to stay aggressive. The confidence level is there.”

It’s there too for the 16-year-old Hernandez. A newcomer on the national team, Hernandez hardly seems intimidated by the stakes. She put up scores that ranked in the top three in all four events, giving Karolyi yet another option as she puts together what will be the gymnastics equivalent of a “Dream Team” for Rio.

“I’d love to just have another day like I had today (on Sunday),” Hernandez said.

Madison Kocian, a world champion on uneven bars, put up the second-best score on her signature event and seems to be fully healed from a leg injury that slowed her training after placing in the top six in all four events.

Maggie Nichols, a member of last fall’s gold-medal winning world championship team, finished outside the top five on uneven bars and balance beam in her first competition since tearing the meniscus in her knee in April. Nichols remains upbeat but it appears open spots on the team appear to be dwindling.

Karolyi teased coming into nationals that she already has five women in mind for Rio. That list did not change on Friday, and time is running out.

“The first five are right there,” she said. “The process is going step by step.”

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Doping on everyone’s mind heading into U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials

OMAHA, NE - JUNE 26:  A general view of preliminary heat 11 of the Women's 100 m Backstroke during Day Two of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials at CenturyLink Center on June 26, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Elizabeth Beisel tilted her head, grimaced a bit and pondered the question: Does she think the Olympic swimming competition will be clean in Rio?

Finally, a blunt reply from the American.

“No,” she said.

Two days ahead of the U.S. trials in Omaha, the topic of doping was on everyone’s minds. A steady stream of revelations – most notably, allegations that the Russians have been running a state-sponsored system of cheating – raises concerns among those who insist they’re doing everything by the book.

“It’s the biggest threat to who should win the medals,” said David Marsh, who will coach the U.S. women’s team in Rio. “It’s the biggest threat to the integrity of the games.”

While much of the scorn has been directed at the Russian track and field program, which in an unprecedented penalty has been banned entirely from the Olympics, swimming has been dealing with its own doping issues.

Two-time gold medalist Sun Yang of China served a three-month ban after testing positive for a banned stimulant in 2014, a relative slap on the wrist that didn’t keep him out of any major competitions.

Then there’s Yulia Efimova, a bronze medalist at the 2012 London Games and one of Russia’s best medal hopes for Rio. She could be allowed to compete even after her second positive doping test.

World governing body FINA lifted her provisional suspension last month, saying it was merely following a recommendation from the World Anti-Doping Agency. WADA is conducting further research of the endurance-boosting drug meldonium, which was added to the list of banned substances at the start of the year. Tennis star Maria Sharapova tested positive for the same drug and received a two-year suspension.

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Given all the disturbing reports, it’s not surprising that doping has been a focus of conversation around the pool deck.

“It’s really disappointing,” said world-record freestyler Katie Ledecky, who figures to be one of the biggest swimming stars in Rio. “I think we’re all happy that people are getting caught and they’re being a little tougher on things. Hopefully, that will continue and we can all feel confident going in that we’re competing against clean athletes.”

Beisel isn’t so sure.

Four years ago, she settled for a silver medal in the 400-meter individual medley behind unheralded Chinese teenager Ye Shiwen, who shattered the world record with a performance that immediately raised questions about whether she was doping. Most notably: Ye went faster than Ryan Lochte, winner of the same event for the men, over the final freestyle lap.

Ye never tested positive and denied any wrongdoing. Some complained she was the victim of a racist-tinged smear campaign led by Western media organizations.

But Ye’s struggles since the London Games – it seems unlikely she will even be on the Chinese team that competes in Rio – have done little to lessen the whispers that took the shine off her gold.

Beisel didn’t single out the swimmer who beat her four years ago, but it’s clear she worries if someone in the next lane is getting an extra boost.

“The talk, the rumors, the speculation,” she said. “Just knowing people from around the world in other countries and hearing stuff, it’s always going to be in the back of your mind.”

USA Swimming has been vocal in the anti-doping effort, but its top official knows much more needs to be done. No matter what, there will always be those willing to skirt the rules.

“It’s a monumental effort,” executive director Chuck Wielgus said Friday. “We’ll never win it, because the cheaters are always a step ahead. But I’ve seen more positive things in this go-round – and I’ve been at every Olympic Games since ’92 – than I’ve seen in the past.”

Wielgus pointed to FINA’s increased spending on testing for the top 10-ranked swimmers in each event as a major step toward ensuring a cleaner competition. He would like more money devoted toward investigating claims that don’t necessarily involve a positive test.

“One of the significant shortcomings right now is that when there is information that could lead to finding an athlete or a group of athletes or even a state-sponsored program, we want to be able to share that information and also have others be able to share that information with their domestic anti-doping agency and ultimately with WADA to conduct investigations,” he said.

According to Marsh, it doesn’t take much to dramatically affect the level of competition, especially on the female side.

“With a little bit of extra testosterone, it’s a giant advantage,” he said. “A complete game-changer.”

Hoping to make his fourth Olympic team, Lochte said he’s always been clean, and insisted he doesn’t concern himself with those who might be getting a pharmaceutical edge.

“I rely on the training I’ve done, the work I’ve done,” he said. “Whether they’re doping or not, it’s going to be a battle in order to beat me.”

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