Rio water venues could leave up to 1,400 athletes at risk of illness

The view from the Rio Olympic sailing course is "spectacular," but what hides beneath the waters has become troubling for athletes who are hoping to avoid getting sick from the contaminated bay.

'It is something we all have to deal with,' says Canadian sailor Nikola Girke

Garbage is spotted floating in the waters of Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro where Olympic sailors will be training and competing for medals. (William West/AFP/Getty Images)

By Neil Davidson, Canadian Press

Dannie Boyd says the view of Rio de Janeiro from the Olympic sailing course is incredible.

"It really makes for picturesque photos," said the 26-year-old from Kingston, Ont., who is racing in the women's 49er FX class with Erin Rafuse of Halifax.

"Spectacular," echoed Nikola Girke, a 38-year-old from West Vancouver who competes in the Nacra 17 class with Luke Ramsay of Vancouver. "One of the most beautiful places to sail. Just looking around, I think the city is so much more beautiful from the water than it [is] on land."

But the water below is a different story. The Associated Press reported Monday that the the water was as filthy as ever, contaminated with raw human sewage teeming with dangerous viruses and bacteria. Prior to the Games, it was reported that an oil slick left white boats "completely brown."

Tests commissioned by the AP show some 1,400 athletes are at risk of getting violently ill in water competitions.

In light of the findings, biomedical expert Valerie Harwood had one piece of advice: "Don't put your head under water."

The Gloria Marina, the starting point for the sailing races, is among the most contaminated points, according to the AP.

Water quality 'really sad'

Girke, who is competing in her fourth Olympics, said it's "definitely the worst I've seen in all my life and travels.

"It is disturbing and it is something we all have to deal with. I think it's really sad. You'd hope that one of the legacies from the Olympic Games, from Rio, would be cleaner water, something for their people. And that hasn't happened."

Boyd says she and Rafuse are in one of the boats "most likely to get wet."

"The water quality is definitely a struggle," said Boyd. "We've taken precautions to make sure that we stay safe in it.

"Learning a couple of new techniques to make sure our mouths stayed close," she added with a laugh.

Protection from pollution

Hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial wipes are a must, especially before eating or drinking.

Girke counts herself fortunate that one of their sponsors, the K3 Company, makes waterproof gear bags.

Everything is kept in those bags in an attempt to protect them from the polluted water.

"Obviously during sailing, we have to talk to each other," said Girke. "Water splashes us. We are covered in water all day long. If it comes near your mouth or in your mouth, I spit a lot. And just try to be healthy otherwise."

The sailors have also had been vaccinated.

"You take as much precautions as you can but you've still got to keep living," Girke said.

With files from The Associated Press


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