The team doctor for the U.S. squad at last week’s World Junior Rowing Championships says she believes 13 team members suffered stomach illnesses after competing in the polluted Rio lake that will host aquatic events at next year’s Olympics.
The Americans were by far the hardest hit at the regatta that concluded over the weekend, with reports of vomiting and diarrhea. Other teams in the competition reported some illnesses, according to World Rowing, the sport’s governing body, but those were about as expected at an event that featured more than 500 young rowers.On July 30, The Associated Press published an independent analysis of water quality that showed high levels of viruses and, in some cases, bacteria from human sewage in all of Rio’s Olympic and Paralympic water venues, including the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, where the rowing competition took place.U.S. coach Susan Francia, a two-time Olympic gold-medal rower, said in an interview with the AP that 13 athletes and four staff members — including herself — suffered various gastrointestinal symptoms during the team’s two weeks of training in Rio.Dr. Kathryn Ackerman, the U.S. team physician, said athletes from several other countries stayed in the same hotel as the Americans, but did not seem to get as sick as her rowers.“I don’t know if it was the water bottles in the boats, or hygiene precautions that some athletes are really good about and others weren’t,” she said.
Francia admits that she doesn’t have concrete proof that the dirty water caused all the illnesses, but it’s not hard to put No. 2 and No. 2 together. “It just doesn’t seem normal,” she said.
The high-performance director of the Canadian team, meanwhile, said told the AP he had “absolutely no problems” after the regatta, and a spokesman for the Rio organizing committee attributed the American team illnesses to “class travel symptoms.”
Next year, 1,400 athletes will compete in the rowing, sailing, triathlon, canoeing and distance-swimming events at the Rio Games, all of them currently showing “high levels of viruses and, in some cases, bacteria from human sewage,” the AP found after doing an independent water-quality analysis.