Sailing: Belgians suspect dirty water for Laser sailor illness

Thu Aug 11, 2016 9:09pm EDT
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By Jeb Blount

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Doctors for the Belgian Olympic medical team suspect polluted water in Rio's Guanabara Bay is responsible for a serious illness that sapped the strength of Evi Van Acker, Laser Radial 2012 bronze medalist, her coach told Reuters.

Van Acker, who sits 10th overall after six of 10 preliminary races, was stricken with a severe gastro-intestinal illness during training in July and despite a course of antibiotics her strength and stamina remain compromised, said Wim Van Bladel, her coach, in a phone interview in Rio.

Olympic organizers have faced harsh criticism for choosing Guanabara Bay as the sailing venue and for failing to meet promises to clean up sewage that contaminates the bay with bacteria and viruses and floating trash that threatens to slow or damage boats.

"The judgment of the medical team is that the water is the likely cause of her illness and continuing low-energy level. These diseases affect your muscles' ability to react," he said.

In a statement in Dutch, Belgian Olympic officials did not mention the water, only saying Van Acker sickened several weeks ago, that her performance was compromised and she was undergoing an intense 36-hour treatment program.

World Sailing spokesman Darryl Seibel said his organization reviews water quality tests from the Rio de Janeiro state government daily. He said a race or training session has never had to be canceled because water pathogen levels were above the World Health Organisation standard for primary contact.

The Rio de Janeiro Olympic Organizing Committee said they also reviewed the water testing numbers and carried out their own on-site inspections of water quality.

They said a new trunk sewer completed in the last year has channeled sewage away from the sailing venue and the WHO water standard for primary contact, or swimming, is higher than is needed for sailing, whose activities are considered secondary contact or not likely to cause immersion.   Continued...

2016 Rio Olympics - Sailing - Preliminary - Women's One Person Dinghy - Laser Radial - Race 3/4 - Marina de Gloria - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 09/08/2016. Evi Van Acker (BEL) of Belgium competes in the third race. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier