The world’s top triathletes took to the Rio 2016 course for an Olympic test event Sunday as officials continue to monitor and test the outdoor water venues for water quality one year before the Games.
The International Triathlon Union contracted water-quality tests for the site of the 1500m swim along Copacabana Beach and received results that showed the water met the standard for competition, according to The Associated Press.
Athletes at the three water venues shared by canoeing, sailing, rowing, triathlon and 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 said in an Associated Press report last week.
American World champion Gwen Jorgensen, who won Sunday’s event to qualify for her second Olympics and extend her unbeaten run to 12 races, said it was a “normal” race, that she was informed the water testing showed it met competitive standards months ago and that athletes were advised of preventative medications they could take before the event, but she felt safe enough competing in Brazilian open water for the first time not to take anything.
“There’s a standard that has to be met, and the standards were met,” Jorgensen said of the water in a phone interview Monday. “We swim in waters all around the world, and this was no different from anywhere else.”
Great Britain’s Non Stanford, who finished second to Jorgensen, skipped pre-race swim practice sessions due to concerns over the water quality but praised the event’s organization, according to the Guardian.
“Since we arrived, everything has gone like clockwork,” Stanford said, according to the newspaper. “The road surface is good, it is safe and the crowd support is fantastic.”
Brit Vicky Holland, the third-place finisher, had no concerns in comments to beIN Sports.
“We’ve been fairly well reassured that the water quality is above the standard we need it to be to swim in, so I take that as written,” she reportedly said. “If it says it’s OK, it’s OK.”
American Sarah True finished fourth Sunday, making her second U.S. Olympic team, and said after the race that the water quality was “a risk” for the triathletes.
“Obviously, it’s a concern,” she said, according to The Associated Press. “Ultimately the Olympic dream is so strong that sometimes we put the pursuit of excellence above our health.
“It’s been an interesting learning experience over the last few days. I think some athletes went back to Biology 101 to learn the difference between bacteria and viruses. It’s kind of eye-opening for me that people didn’t differentiate the two.”
New Zealand’s two-time Olympian Andrea Hewitt ingested water Sunday but said she felt good after the race, according to the New Zealand Herald.
“There’s lakes around here with rubbish, but I couldn’t see anything in the sea,” Hewitt reportedly said. “I would have found out by now if I had something. It’s a pretty nice beach here at Copacabana; it seems as clean as any other beach.”
British Olympic triathlon champion Alistair Brownlee said before the race that triathletes were resigned to a degree of risk, according to the Guardian.
“I think it is an unfortunate fact that in any inner-city venue questions are going to get asked, whether it is London or Stockholm or wherever we race,” Brownlee said, according to the newspaper. “I’m no stranger to dirty water. I’ve swum in a lot worse than this, to be honest.”
Two more U.S. Olympic hopefuls who competed in Rio, Katie and Tommy Zaferes, said Monday the water quality issue was not a concern.
“I feel the media blew the water quality issue out of proportion,” Katie Zaferes said in a comment provided by USA Triathlon. “ITU [International Triathlon Union] monitored tests of the water quality, and I trust them to make a decision that doesn’t endanger the welfare of the athletes. I did not take any medication to prepare for the swim because I didn’t see the water as a concern. The water was great and I enjoyed a recovery swim and some body surfing in the waves after the race.”
“As an athlete who has grown up around the ocean, and swam in rivers, lakes, and ponds around the globe, the Rio water was nothing new,” Tommy Zaferes said in a comment provided by USA Triathlon. “I had no problem doing the swim course preview, racing, and even adding a body surfing session the day after. All the media hubbub was an unnecessary distraction. There is a risk riding your bike, running in the sun, or just eating at a restaurant.”
Before the race, USA Triathlon CEO Rob Urbach said in a statement that the organization was in “direct conversation” with its athletes and “listening closely to any concerns.”
“Athlete safety is always of the utmost importance to USA Triathlon, and we take this situation very seriously,” he said Thursday. “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.”
Sailors will compete in their Rio 2016 venue at Guanabara Bay next week, as they did last August.