Road To The Olympic Games

Sailing

Sailors at Rio Olympics concerned about water quality

It's not just Zika that Olympic sailors are concerned about. Guanabara Bay is reported to have a high level of viruses and bacteria.

High levels of viruses, bacteria in the Guanabara Bay remain a health concern

The quality of the water in Guanabara Bay continues to be a concern for sailors leading up to the Rio Games. (Tasso Marcelo/Getty Images)

While the Zika virus is garnering all the attention, there's another reason why sailors are worried.

The sailing regatta at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics will be both filthy and photogenic.

While the beautiful landscape overlooks the site of the sailing competition, an ugly mess underlies the site of the competition.

The troubled waters of Guanabara Bay have made news for the wrong reasons, with an independent study by The Associated Press showing high levels of viruses and sometimes bacteria from human sewage. 

'Not that different' from Beijing Games

Sailors have tried to downplay the effects of sailing on the dirty water, saying they're taking precautions and that Rio isn't the only place on the planet with polluted waterways.

"It's not that different to what China was eight years ago. Obviously we've taken precautions with all the immunizations. You try to stay out of the water," said New Zealand 49er skipper Peter Burling. 

Still, German sailor Erik Heil was hospitalized in Berlin and underwent surgery to treat inflammation and skin infections after competing in a test event in August.

It's not all bad

Dirty water aside, sailors rave about Rio as a good place to sail, both on the bay and on ocean courses.

This will be one of the rare times sailors have competed in the center of the Olympic action. The Christ the Redeemer statue and Rio's round natural features will provide a stunning backdrop. The medal races will be sailed off Flamengo Beach, with the windward mark right under Sugarloaf Mountain.

One big improvement so far is at the venue, the new Marina da Gloria, where the water is clearer just months after a new sewage system was installed to stop brown, untreated sludge from being poured into the small harbor.

Olympic aquaphobia?

Some sailors will end up in the water, particularly in the wild 49er class, which is prone to capsizing. "You don't want to ingest the water," said Burling.

While some sailors fear the waters of Rio, others aren't fazed one bit.

U.S. sailor Paige Railey of Clearwater, Fla., has made several trips to Rio. She said she's even gone wakeboarding and swimming there, and has eaten fish from the bay.

"I don't have any fear about the water at all, actually," she said.

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