Triathletes’ reactions to Rio Olympic water venue after test event

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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.

US Sailing official: Guanabara is safe place to compete

Ill Katie Ledecky withdraws from world championships races

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An ill Katie Ledecky withdrew from her next two events at the world swimming championships, USA Swimming announced less than two hours before she was scheduled to race on Tuesday morning in South Korea.

“Katie has not been feeling well since arriving to Gwangju on [Wednesday], and these precautionary measures are being taken to ensure her well-being and proper recovery, and to allow her to focus her energy on an abbreviated schedule,” National Team Managing Director Lindsay Mintenko said in a statement.

Doctors are still identifying the specific problem with lab work, said her coach, Greg Meehan. Ledecky is out of the 200m and 1500m freestyles Tuesday but could still swim the 4x200m free relay on Thursday and the 800m free on Friday and Saturday.

Meehan said Ledecky’s slow last 50 meters of Sunday’s opening 400m free final, where she was passed and relegated for silver, was “a little bit of a sign” of a problem.

Meehan also said she was “having a hard time” in the final 500 meters of her last race, the 1500m free heats on Monday morning, where she posted the fastest time by 2.69 seconds. He checked with Ledecky and doctors after that race.

“She was feeling a little bit better last night, and then we were hopeful today,” Meehan said. “But woke up this morning and was not feeling well at all. We’re just going to take it session by session and then day by day. And then if we can get her back in the meet at some point, that would be ideal scenario.”

Ledecky did not mention a medical issue in speaking to the media Sunday after she suffered her first loss in the 400m free in a major international meet.

“This doesn’t take away from what Ari did,” Meehan said of 18-year-old gold medalist Ariarne Titmus of Australia. “The message isn’t that it’s an excuse for coming up with a silver medal.”

Ledecky would have been in line to swim the 1500m free final and 200m free semifinals within about an hour of each other on Tuesday, the most difficult turnaround of her slate this week and perhaps for any swimmer at the meet.

Ledecky won the Rio Olympic 200m freestyle but was relegated to silver and bronze in the event at the 2017 Worlds and 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. She ranks No. 5 in the world this year in the event, the shortest distance that she races individually at major meets.

Titmus owns the fastest 200m free time this year.

Ledecky, who has never withdrawn from an event at a major international meet in eight years at this level, is undefeated at 1500m. She owns the eight fastest times in history, and her world record is 18.4 seconds faster than the No. 2 performer all time in an event that makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

Also withdrawing before the 200m free were Canadian Taylor Ruck, who won the 2018 Pan Pacs, and Australian Emma McKeon, who shared 2017 World silver with Ledecky. Ruck’s decision was due to her busy program overall and focusing on other events. McKeon is also ill.

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Sydney McLaughlin takes juggling act to USATF Outdoor Champs

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Sydney McLaughlin can juggle. She can also ride a unicycle. And she has been known to juggle and ride a unicycle at the same time.

“But I haven’t done both of them at the same time in a long time,” the 400m hurdler added. “I’m getting older now.”

About to turn 20 next month, she is juggling quite a few things these days — a new coach, living on the West Coast, making the transition from college to the pro circuit and the weight of lofty expectations. Her name constantly pops up among the ones to watch heading into the Tokyo Olympics next summer.

That’s hardly a surprise: In 2016 and at just 16, McLaughlin became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to qualify for the Olympics in more than four decades.

Pressure doesn’t bother her. She just keeps her eye on the prize like she did as a kid when her dad would coax her to run with the reward of a chocolate candy bar.

Winning is her incentive now — and it’s just as sweet.

“For me it’s kind of just focusing on myself and making sure I’m doing everything possible to be successful,” McLaughlin said ahead of the U.S. track and field championships, which start Thursday at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa.

A year ago, McLaughlin turned pro after spending a season at Kentucky and winning the NCAA 400 hurdles crown.

Since then, the New Jersey native has been adjusting to life in Los Angeles and working with 2004 Olympic 100m hurdles gold medalist Joanna Hayes. McLaughlin won her Diamond League 400m hurdles debut in Oslo, Norway, last month over U.S. teammate and Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad.

That despite knocking down the first hurdle.

“It’s good to know the strength was there,” said McLaughlin, who also won in Monaco on July 12. “But definitely have to work on the hurdles form and everything.”

McLaughlin will be one of the favorites when the 400m hurdles start Friday. It’s a loaded field that also includes Muhammad, 2015 world champion silver medalist Shamier Little and bronze medalist Cassandra Tate, ’16 Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer. Since reigning world champion Kori Carter has an automatic spot to worlds in Doha this fall, there are three more spots up for grabs in the event.

“There’s so much depth,” McLaughlin said. “It’s particularly hard to make that team.”

McLaughlin teamed up in early November with Hayes, who ran the 400m hurdles before switching over to the 100m hurdles. Any chance McLaughlin makes a similar move?

“We always joke about it,” McLaughlin said. “We’ll have to see about that one.”

One hurdle at a time. Her focus remains on steadily learning the nuances of the taxing 400 hurdles event.

“She’s talented and there’s no need to put everything on the line or everything into it in one year,” Hayes explained. “Give her room to grow and make strides.”

Hayes gets asked this often: Can McLaughlin one day break the world record? The mark sits at 52.34 seconds set by Yuliya Pechonkina of Russia in 2003. McLaughlin’s top time is 52.75 seconds, which she ran in May 2018.

“We don’t talk about, ‘OK, we’re going to try to break the world record,’” Hayes said. “We go in there and try to execute a great race. If you do that, eventually records will come.”

Growing up, McLaughlin wasn’t all that jazzed about running. Her father, Willie, would provide plenty of motivation in the form of candy.

“He said, ‘If you run I’ll give you a chocolate bar.’ I ran the 100m and actually won,” recalled McLaughlin, who started a juggling club while in high school and recently got back into the hobby. “I think I was more excited about the chocolate bar than the fact I won. I guess he lured me into the sport.”

She is still motivated by reward — a good performance earns her either a nap or a cheeseburger.

It’s the simple things in life.

McLaughlin comes from an athletic family. Her dad was a 400m semifinalist at the 1984 Olympic Trials and her mother, Mary, ran in high school. Her two brothers and sister also have competitive running backgrounds.

And when the siblings get together, it becomes rivalry time. Sydney pairs with her brother Taylor and they’re pitted against her sister Morgan and brother Ryan. The competitions range from bowling to board games to push-ups.

“We usually win,” cracked McLaughlin, the Gatorade national high school track athlete of the year in ’16 and ’17. “Anything that involves winning you can best believe that we’re competing with each other.”

In her spare time, she’s active on social media and offers tips to kids not that much younger than her.

“I definitely think having people look up to you and ask you for advice drives you to want to do better and continue to have success,” McLaughlin said. “I have fun with being that role model that does things the right way.”

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