Rowers Concerned Over Polluted Waters At Olympic Competition Venues

August 14, 2015 | Sports
Olympic hopefuls expressed concerns over polluted waters at rowing competition sites.

By Erin Delmore

“It’s one of the best of the best rowing venues in the country. It’s a beautiful park and a really experienced group of people to work with,” said U.S. Rowing Events Manager Alvin Dominique.

It’s the U.S. Rowing Masters National Championships. Clear skies and clear water at the Cooper River as far as the I can see.

So Camden’s a great venue for racing. Rio, not so much.

More than 40 athletes here are former members of the U.S. national team, and a couple are coaches of the U.S. Junior National Team. That’s the group that competed in Rio earlier this month and got sick adding to concerns about water quality at that future Olympic site.

“It was a little scary to hear stories about water quality and the fact that it impacted some of the finals races,” said Masters Coaching Kathryn Kyle. 

Eleven athletes and four coaches picked up a stomach illness while competing at the World Junior Rowing Championship in Rio. An independent analysis by the Associated Press showed high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in the lake where the race took place and in all of the city’s Olympic water sport venues. 

U.S. Rowing CEO Glenn Merry said in a statement, “It would be easy but irresponsible for us to immediately assume that the rowing course is the main or sole point of exposure that caused the illness.”

One athlete capsized, she’s not yet reporting symptoms. One coach affected with the stomach bug didn’t row on the lake. The American team was hardest hit.

“Well certainly you want to be in top condition, right, something you work for and train for, you want to be in top condition,” said Michelle Wilkie. “So, yeah, it would be difficult to race under those conditions, where you’re not feeling well, yeah, very difficult.”

The World Rowing Federation told the Americans that the lake was tested every two days in the weeks leading up to the competition and test results showed no significant traces of E. coli. 

“You know, I think you have your highs and your lows. It just comes with the territory of racing. You’re going to different a country, things happen, things change, your body reacts different, it’s definitely unfortunate, but in this sport we have such tough people, such tough skins that they overcome these things,” said Katherine Isaza.  

This time next year 1,400 water sport athletes will be competing in Rio and the U.S. Olympic team is hoping to concentrate all that toughness on the competition.