Ex-World Sailing CEO says he was fired over Rio’s polluted venue

Guanabara Bay
AP
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The former CEO of World Sailing says he was fired for pushing to get rid of polluted Guanabara Bay as the sailing venue for this year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Peter Sowrey tried to change the venue, or at least have a “B plan” but says “I was told to gag myself on the subject.”

Andy Hunt took over just two weeks ago as the new CEO, and sailing is still scheduled to begin in August in the sewage-filled bay.

In interviews with The Associated Press, Sowrey and Hunt said the bay — overlooked by the famous Christ the Redeemer monument and Sugarloaf Mountain behind it — may give sailing the kind of television coverage it seldom enjoys.

It could also bring unwanted attention if sailors fall ill, or if floating rubbish — plastic bags to door frames to animal carcasses — fouls rudders and costs someone an Olympic gold medal.

Sowrey proposed moving the event to Buzios, a coastal resort about 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Rio that has been host to several large sailing events. Of course, it’s too late now for that change.

Sowrey, who left in December after only five months on the job, came to the governing body from the consulting company Accenture. He acknowledged he had little experience dealing with the politics that drive international sports federations. But he brought business acumen.

“The board felt I was way too aggressive,” Sowrey said. “They basically voted me out. I didn’t resign. The board finally told me to leave.”

Sowrey said looking at Guanabara Bay on “fact-based, data-driven model we would never consider sailing in that quality of water.”

Independent testing of Guanabara Bay conducted by the AP over the last year shows disease-causing viruses linked to human sewage at levels thousands of times above what would be considered alarming in the U.S. or Europe. The tests include the venue for sailing, but also Rio’s Olympic venues for rowing, canoeing, open-water swimming and triathlon.

About 1,600 athletes will compete in these venues during the Olympics, which open Aug. 5, and hundreds more during the subsequent Paralympics.

Experts say athletes will be competing in the viral equivalent of raw sewage with exposure to dangerous health risks almost certain. Many sailors have described the conditions as “sailing in a toilet” or an “open sewer.”

Viruses like those in Guanabara Bay can cause stomach and respiratory ailments that could knock an athlete out of the Olympics.

When he first learned of the AP analysis, Sowrey supported the same kind of independent viral testing. But he was nudged to support the position adopted by the International Olympic Committee, the World Health Organization and local organizers; that the bacteria-only testing was sufficient.

“I was just stepping on toes,” Sowrey said.

Like many of the 35 federations that participate in the Summer and Winter Olympics, World Sailing gets much of income from the IOC. Sowrey and Hunt both said more than half of World Sailing’s annual revenue was from that source.

World Sailing’s executive board, which Sowrey said dismissed him, has two non-voting members — King Harald V of Norway and Constantine, the former king of Greece — and seven voting members. Some are retired Olympians or former heads of national sailing federations.

Sowrey proposed Buzios as a replacement for Guanabara and showed the AP a 20-page dossier detailing the plans.

“I did a plan with Buzios and tried to push it through,” said Sowrey, who also lives part-time in the town. “I couldn’t win that battle, not internally at ISAF (World Sailing) and I couldn’t win it with the organizers. I was perplexed why there was no back-up sailing plan. It’s only sailing after all, it’s not curing cancer.”

Buzios is no longer an option and Hunt knows the looming risks.

“There’ll be huge interest in how the (Olympic) regatta goes, and the problems that take place,” Hunt told the AP.

Hunt has been weaned on sports politics. He was the CEO of the British Olympic Association, and the BOA delegation head for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, and the 2012 London Olympics.

“It (Guanabara) is not ideal,” Hunt said. “For one moment I’m not saying it’s ideal, but I do think there’s a huge amount of effort and attention going into this to ensure the safety of the athletes.”

His main worry is the floating trash, which will be policed during the games by a dozen rubbish collection boats, barriers used to block fetid streams that feed the bay, and helicopters to spot flows of detritus.

A sewer pipe to keep raw sewage from reaching the Marina da Gloria, the launching point during the Olympics, is supposed to be ready by late March but is at least three months behind schedule.

Rio treats only about half of its raw sewage, so bacteria and viruses in the bay are long-term problems without short-term fixes.

“I think it’s hard to say there’s a lot more that could be done,” Hunt said. “If there were limitless resources, maybe there’s more that might be done, but it has to be realistic.”

Hunt noted the bay was the venue for the 2007 Pan American Games, and Rio has held two Olympic sailing test events in the last two years. Hunt described these as “successful,” although many sailors complained about the stench around the marina, and teams took unusual precautions to avoid unnecessary contact with the water.

“I’m completely aware of the possibility and the challenge of how this (Olympic sailing) might get portrayed,” Hunt said. “The ultimate test – if we have delivered a great regatta – will be the response from the sailors.”

 

MORE: Rio Olympics face deep cuts unseen in decades

Svetlana Romashina, seven-time Olympic champion artistic swimmer, retires

Svetlana Romashina
Getty
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Russian Svetlana Romashina, the most decorated artistic swimmer in Olympic history with seven gold medals, announced her retirement at age 33.

Romashina entered seven Olympic artistic swimming events and won all of them, starting in 2008. She won four Olympic titles in the team event and three in the duet (two with Nataliya Ishchenko and one with Svetlana Kolesnichenko).

The Tokyo Games marked her last major competition.

Romashina is the only woman to go undefeated in her Olympic career while entering seven or more events. The only man to do so was American track and field athlete Ray Ewry, who won all eight of his Olympic starts from 1900-08, according to Olympedia.org.

Romashina also won 21 world championships medals — all gold, second in aquatics history behind Michael Phelps‘ 26.

She took nearly two years off after giving birth to daughter Alexandra in November 2017, then came back to win three golds at her last world championships in 2019 and two golds at her last Olympics in 2021.

Romashina is now an artistic swimming coach, according to Russian media.

Russian swimmers swept the Olympic duet and team titles at each of the last six Olympics.

Russians have been banned from international competition since March due to the war in Ukraine.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, three gates from gold, skis out of world championships combined

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Mikaela Shiffrin was three gates from a record-tying seventh world championships gold medal when she lost her balance and straddled a gate, skiing out of the first race of worlds on Monday.

Italian Federica Brignone won the women’s combined instead, prevailing by 1.62 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener, the largest Olympic or world championships men’s or women’s margin of victory in the event since it switched from three runs to two in 2007.

Austrian Ricarda Haaser took bronze in an event that is one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom.

At 32, Brignone, the 2020 World Cup overall champion, won her first global title and became the oldest female world champion in any event.

“What was missing in my career was a gold medal,” she said. “So I’m old. No, I’m just kidding.”

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin was sixth fastest in the opening super-G run, 96 hundredths behind Brignone. She skied aggressively in the slalom in a bid to beat Brignone. Shiffrin cut the gap to eight hundredths by the last intermediate split with about 10 seconds left on the course in Meribel, France.

Shiffrin looked set to overtake Brignone until tripping up slightly with five gates left. It compounded, and Shiffrin couldn’t save the run, losing control, straddling the third-to-last gate and skiing out. The timing system still registered her finish — 34 hundredths faster than Brignone — but it was quickly corrected to the obvious disqualification.

Asked on French TV if she lost focus, Shiffrin said, “People are going to say that no matter what.”

“The surface changed a little bit on these last gates, so [on pre-race] inspection I saw it’s a bit more unstable on the snow,” she added. “I tried to be aware of that, but I knew that if I had a chance to make up nine tenths on Federica, or more than that, like one second, I had to push like crazy. So I did, and I had a very good run. I’m really happy with my skiing.”

It marked Shiffrin’s first time skiing out since she did so in three races at last February’s Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth in five races. At the Olympics, she skied out within the first 13 seconds in each instance. On Monday, she was more than 40 seconds into her run.

“I was thinking, now I’m going to go through the mixed zone. and everyone’s going to ask, ‘Oh, is this Beijing again?'” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t really think about that for myself, but more for the people asking. But I also said before, coming into this world champs multiple times, I’m not afraid if it happens again. What if I don’t finish every run? What happened last year, and I survived. And then I’ve had some pretty amazing races this season. So I would take the season that I’ve had with no medals at the world championships. If it’s either/or, then I would take that. I’m happy with it. But I’m going to be pushing for medals, because that’s what you do at world champs. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and you go for it. I’m not afraid of the consequences, as long as I have that mentality, which I had today.”

NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said what happened Monday was “completely different” from the Olympics, calling it “an error of aggression.”

“It certainly wasn’t nerves that sent her out,” Porino said on the Peacock broadcast. “This was Shiffrin knowing that she had to have a huge run to get the gold medal.

“The way she went out this time, I think she can brush that one off.”

Shiffrin was bidding to tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12). Coming into Monday, she earned a medal in her last 10 world championships races dating to 2015.

Her next chance to match those records comes in Wednesday’s super-G, where she is a medal contender. Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel is the world’s top-ranked super-G skier through five races on the World Cup this season, though she was 71 hundredths behind Brignone in Monday’s super-G run.

Shiffrin has raced two super-Gs this season with a win and a seventh place.

She is expected to race three more times over the two-week worlds, which is separate from the World Cup circuit that she has torn up this season.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts across all disciplines since November, moving her one shy of the career victories record of 86 accumulated by Swede Ingemar Stenmark in the 1970s and ’80s. Again, world championships races do not count toward the World Cup, which picks back up after worlds end in late February.

Worlds continue Tuesday with the men’s combined.

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