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U.S. open-water swimmers concerned about Olympic venue

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ATLANTA (AP) — Haley Anderson has been through this before.

In the lead-up to the Rio Olympics, all the talk about open-water swimming focused on the conditions rather than the competition.

Now, it’s happening again with the Tokyo Games less than a year away.

This time, there is concern about the potentially dangerous heat.

For athletes such as Anderson and U.S. teammate Jordan Wilimovsky, it’s all rather frustrating. The Olympics is the one chance for their obscure sport to really shine. Instead, they’re being asked whether it should be moved to a cooler location.

“It’s been really frustrating,” Anderson said Thursday night after competing in the U.S. Open, which is being held at Georgia Tech. “No one wants to know how we’re doing, how we’re preparing. It’s all about the conditions.”

Not that she’s complaining about the focus on safety.

“We need to talk about it,” Anderson said. “I’m glad people are starting to speak out and hopefully it will get people moving, because there’s no Plan B. There should always be a Plan B for any race.”

Wilimovksy remembered the 2016 competition being overshadowed by the severe pollution at Rio’s Copacabana Beach.

“It’s a little annoying that it’s come up again four years later,” he said.

Anderson competed at a test event in Tokyo Bay this past August, when sweltering conditions provided a sobering preview of what the swimmers will face next summer.

She dropped out less than a quarter of a way through the 10km race, feeling it just wasn’t safe enough to press on.

“I wasn’t comfortable,” said Anderson, a silver medalist at the 2012 London Games who already has qualified for her third Olympics. “It was warm water, warm air. One of their solutions was moving it earlier (in the day), but it doesn’t cool off that much.”

Fearing Tokyo’s blistering summer heat, the International Olympic Committee already ordered the marathon and race-walking events moved to Sapporo in northern Japan. Local organizers bristled over the decision, saying it was forced on them by the IOC and deprived the city of one of its glamour events.

Now attention has turned to open water, especially in light of very warm water temperatures recorded this past summer at the course known as “Odaiba Marine Park.”

“We already have to deal with a lot of different conditions, which I like,” Anderson said. “That’s what makes open water interesting and fun. That’s what drew me to it. But there’s a point to where it’s dangerous.”

One day, the water temperature climbed to 86.9 Fahrenheit at the Olympic venue — just under the limit of 87.8 set by swimming’s world governing body FINA. The temperatures were consistently in the 84-86 range.

There also are concerns about water quality, most notably E. coli bacteria. There are filters to help deal with the issue, but heavy rainfall exacerbates the problem.

“Hopefully they’re able to figure it out at the venue that they have,” said Wilimovsky, who will be competing in his second Olympics after finishing fifth in Rio. “Odaiba looked really cool when we were there for the site visit.”

When Anderson was asked whether the open-water races should be moved to a different location, she didn’t hesitate.

“Yes,” Anderson said. “I would love to see some options. It’s hard, because as an athlete you don’t get to choose where you race. But I just want somewhere that’s safer.”

USA Swimming officials have quietly lobbied to move the Olympic events to a lake course at the base of Mount Fuji, which would provide a striking backdrop. But Tokyo organizers have been adamant that no more events be shifted out of the city. It seems highly unlikely the IOC would try to impose another venue change at this late date.

This figures to remain a contentious issue, especially for a U.S. team that hasn’t forgotten losing one of its own.

In 2010, hot water temperatures were linked to the death of American swimmer Fran Crippen during a distance swim in the United Arab Emirates. The autopsy concluded that he died from drowning and heat exhaustion, with the possibility of a heart abnormality.

It was the first competitive death in FINA’s history, putting severe pressure on the governing body to improve safety standards.

“It’s always on our minds,” Anderson said. “Fran was always the biggest supporter of athlete safety. The biggest. That’s what he instilled in us. It’s frustrating that we’re dealing with the same issues. There have been multiple races that I’ve pulled out of because I didn’t feel safe.”

In 2016, the open-water races went on as scheduled at Copacabana. No one reported any health issues afterward.

“Instead of showcasing what open-water swimming’s about, all the questions were, ‘How do you feel about racing in dirty water?’” Wilimovsky recalled. “It turned out fine. The race was awesome. It’s just annoying that (water quality) was kind of hanging over it.”

He is confident that no one will be in harm’s way at the next Olympics.

“I trust the U.S. is not going to make us race or put us in a position to race where the water’s unsafe,” he said.

If that’s not the case, Anderson isn’t sure what she’ll do.

It’s one thing to drop out of a test event. It’s a whole different issue when an Olympic medal is on the line.

“Swimming is once every four years. It’s not like the NBA and other sports, where you have a huge event every year,” Anderson said. “It’s hard to take your competitiveness and try to take a step back. I want to do well. I want to compete at the Olympics. But at what cost?”

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Haley Anderson, Ashley Twichell are first to qualify for 2020 U.S. Olympic team

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Swimmers Haley Anderson and Ashley Twichell became the first of who will be more than 500 athletes to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic team.

Anderson, a 2012 Olympic silver medalist, qualified for her third Olympics by earning another silver in the world championships open-water 10km in South Korea on Sunday morning.

Twichell was sixth to make her first Olympic team in her fourth try at age 30.

Top-10 finishers in the event, which debuted at the Olympics in 2008, qualified directly for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Anderson, a 27-year-old from California, is the lone American to earn an Olympic open-water medal. She also owns world titles in the open-water 5km, which is not an Olympic distance.

Twichell, who tried to make Olympic teams in 2008, 2012 and 2016, is in line to become the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie swimmer since James Greene in 1908, according to the OlyMADMen. And the third-oldest U.S. Olympic female swimmer after Dara Torres (33, 41) and Jenny Thompson (31), who each earned 12 medals.

Twichell in 2017 became the oldest American to win an open-water world title.

The men’s open-water 10km at worlds is Tuesday, where Rio Olympian Jordan Wilimovsky and David Heron can join Anderson and Twichell on the Olympic team with top-10 finishes.

The U.S. Olympic swim team in pool events will be determined at trials in Omaha in June.

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Open-water swimmers move one step from making Olympic team

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Rio Olympians Haley Anderson and Jordan Wilimovsky are among four U.S. open-water swimmers who on Friday qualified for the world championships, moving one step from making the Tokyo Games.

Anderson, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, and Wilimovsky, who had fourth- and fifth-place finishes in 2016, will be joined by potential first-time Olympians Ashley Twichell and David Heron.

Twichell and Anderson finished second and third behind Brazilian Ana Marcela Cunha on Friday. Wilimovsky and Heron were second and fourth as the top Americans in the men’s event won by Italian Olympic 1500m freestyle champion Gregorio Paltrinieri.

The top 10 overall in the men’s and women’s races at worlds in Gwangju, South Korea, in July qualify for the Olympics.

Anderson, 27, and Wilimovsky, 25, both qualified for the Rio Games at the 2015 World Championships, with Wilimovsky earning that world title. Wilimovsky followed that with a silver in 2017, with Anderson taking sixth at those most recent worlds.

The open-water 10km, which debuted at the Olympics in 2008, is the only swim event on the most recent Olympic program that the U.S. has never won.

MORE: U.S. swimmers qualified for world championships

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