Rio passes first Olympic test, water quality surprises

Thu Aug 14, 2014 10:58am EDT
 
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By Jeb Blount

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Rio de Janeiro passed its first 2016 Olympics test with the end of an international sailing regatta on Guanabara Bay, one of the most heavily criticized venues in a city under attack for disorganization and construction delays.

During the week-long event many athletes and coaches were surprised to find the bay's notoriously dirty water - infamous for raw sewage, floating garbage, boat-battering debris and animal corpses - to be far cleaner than expected.

"I noticed a big difference, there was a lot less rubbish in the water than there was a year ago," said Jo Aleh, helmswoman for the winning New Zealand team in the Women's 470 class at the end of that competition on Saturday.

A long-time critic of the venue, Aleh said she preferred the pristine waters of her Pacific Island nation and still felt Guanabara Bay needed work. But she pointed out that many races are being held outside the bay in the open ocean where the water is "just fine."

Nor, she and other sailors added, is Rio the only important world sailing venue with water-quality issues. Pollution-fed algae blooms threatened Olympic sailing at the Beijing Games in Quingdao in 2008 and were only resolved in the weeks before the event started.

Concern Rio won't meet its cleanup goals has eased enough that Jorge Fundak, sports director for the Austrian sailing federation, is pushing organizers to hold more races in the bay and fewer in the cleaner open ocean. It is harder for TV to cover events outside the bay, he said.

CONCERNS EXAGGERATED   Continued...

 
Competitors stand on their windsurfing boards at the women's RS-X sailing class during the first test event for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro August 3, 2014.  REUTERS/Sergio Moraes