USOC collecting data on polluted Rio Olympic water venues

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The U.S. Olympic Committee has been collecting data regarding the state of pollution in the Rio Olympic outdoor water venues and determining precautionary measures for American athletes.

Not one water venue for the Rio Olympics is safe for swimming or boating, according to an Associated Press investigation into water quality a little more than one year before the Games.

USOC chief of sport performance Alan Ashley said he’s aware of the report and that the welfare of the athletes is his highest priority.

“I’ve actually been thinking about this and paying very close attention to it for quite some time,” Ashley said Thursday, adding later that he would hypothetically canoe in those waters.

Ashley did not mention specific measures being taken in advance of Olympic test events and qualifiers in triathlon, sailing and open-water swimming scheduled for August in Rio.

“It’s mostly just collecting data,” Ashley said.

Athletes at the three water venues shared by canoeing, sailing, rowing, triathlon, open-water swimming have a 99 percent chance of infection if they ingested three teaspoons of water, a U.S. expert in risk assessment for waterborne viruses told the AP.

“What you have there is basically raw sewage,” John Griffith, a marine biologist at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project said after examining the AP tests, according to the report. “It’s all the water from the toilets and the showers and whatever people put down their sinks, all mixed up, and it’s going out into the beach waters. Those kinds of things would be shut down immediately if found here [in the U.S.].”

In April, an International Sailing Federation official threatened to have the Olympic sailing events moved from Rio’s Guanabara Bay if action wasn’t quickly taken to clean it after a “super bacteria” was found in the bay.

Rio officials pledged last spring and winter that the water quality will be improved and ready for competition next summer. The AP reported that it tested for viruses, while the government and the International Olympic Committee rely on bacteria testing only.

U.S. Olympic Sailing managing director Josh Adams said Thursday that US Sailing continues to view the Olympic venue at Guanabara Bay as a safe place to sail.

“We’ve been training in Rio for several years without incident,” Adams said in a phone interview, one week before he travels to Rio to prepare for an Olympic test event with a full team of U.S. sailors. “We’ve gained valuable experience in Guanabara Bay. We’ve been monitoring the situation and encourage efforts to clean up the bay.”

Adams, who hasn’t been to Rio since last August’s test event, said he’s not aware of any U.S. sailors not wanting to compete at Guanabara Bay.

“There are concerns about water pollution in Guanabara Bay, as we’ve been well aware of for several years,” Adams said. “There’s really two issues. There’s the contents of the water, the actual water itself, and then there’s debris in the water. … They’re really two separate issues. We’re satisfied that organizers are working to control the amount of debris.”

Adams said there’s been no change since last August’s test event in Rio in the preventative measures U.S. sailors have been advised to take before traveling to Brazil or competing in Guanabara Bay.

“Our medical experts who we count on for their expertise in the subject, they made some recommendations, and we still follow those recommendations,” he said.

An Olympic triathlon qualifying event in Rio de Janeiro is Sunday, featuring U.S. gold-medal favorite Gwen Jorgensen.

“Athlete safety is always of the utmost importance to USA Triathlon, and we take this situation very seriously,” USA Triathlon CEO Rob Urbach said in a statement. “We are in direct conversation with our athletes and listening closely to any concerns. We will continue to work collaboratively with all involved organizations and federations to help protect the health of those competing at the Olympic and Paralympic test events in Rio. We have been assured by applicable regulatory bodies that the water quality meets required standards. As part of our overall efforts, we are offering a preventative medical management plan on-site to all of our athletes.”

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