RIO DE JANEIRO – Josh Adams expressed slightly mixed feelings about sailing in polluted Guanabara Bay, the venue for sailing in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the site of the city's first test event, which started Sunday.
Adams, managing director of the American Olympic sailing team, likes that Guanabara is located in the heart of Rio and is a familiar venue to world sailors. It means sailors will be in the host city and not lodged on a coast hours away from the action.
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On the other hand, American sailing officials have hired medical experts to test the water in Guanabara, which has suffered from decades of untreated human waste being poured into the bay. Adams said Sunday tests showed the water to be "contaminated," prompting what he termed "preventive measures."
Despite problems, Adams was upbeat about the venue and said his sailors were too.
"We feel our sailors are safe, and we're aware of the issues with the water quality in Guanabara Bay," Adams said. "We know and have proven with our own water testing project that the water is contaminated, but we didn't discover anything that people didn't already know. It's contaminated largely because of unregulated sewage."
Teams in the test event have been invited by Olympics organizers to test the water. Adams said American tests showed "nothing really alarming," though he declined to reveal the results or the "preventive measures" that scientists had suggested.
"We'd rather not share any more information than that," he said.
Health experts haves suggested that sailors be vaccinated for hepatitis A, and at a small regatta last year sailors rubbed alcohol on their hands after leaving the water.
Rio and adjacent cities pour almost 70 percent of their sewage untreated into surrounding waters. Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes and other government officials have acknowledged targets will be missed for cleaning the water for the Olympics.
British sailor Alain Sign, rigging his 49er boat Sunday, described the problem of floating debris in the bay.
"You want to get to the left or right and you see a tide line that seems to carry a lot of rubbish," he said. "It's a lot of luck if you hit something, or don't hit something and get through it."
Sign described the water in Guanabara as "a bit darker than usual." Sailors have regularly likened the smell around the bay to a "toilet" or "open sewer."
"Around the edges is the worst where it all collects," Sign said "I wouldn't want to go paddle boarding and capsize."
Alastair Fox, head of competitions for the governing body ISAF, described conditions the last few days as "good." He said recent water testing around the course areas met Brazilian and international standards.
He said rain was forecast for later in the week, which will wash more sewage and debris into the bay.
Rio state officials are using 10 rubbish boats during the regatta to pick up floating debris.
"It wouldn't be a good test if it didn't rain," Fox said. "We need to see it when it's bad, and when it's good."
He said the biggest concern, besides fecal levels in the water, was floating objects hindering racing. At least one sailor over the last few days took a photo of a dead dog floating in the bay.
"Ultimately we need to have a clear field of play," Fox said "We can't have objects in that water that can affect racing."
Asked if he would swim in the bay, Fox replied: "I'd sail in it."
Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP
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