U.S. and international sailing officials told Reuters that there is no evidence that contaminated water in Rio de Janeiro caused members of a junior rowing team to get sick.
The Associated Press reported Monday that 13 members of the 40-member U.S. team came down a with stomach illness last weekend after the world junior championships, which is a test event for next summer’s Olympics in Brazil.
U.S. coach Susan Francia told the AP 13 athletes and four staff members—including herself—suffered gastrointestinal symptoms during training in Rio. U.S. officials confirmed to Reuters that 15 rowers got sick, but said it was too early to blame the water as the cause.
Francia said she didn't have proof that the rowers got sick because of the water, but added, “It just doesn't seem normal. You don't want to see athletes in the boat-park vomiting.”
“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 illnesses,” USRowing CEO Glenn Merry told Reuters in an email.
One athlete who fell into the water after a boat tipped over was not among those who got sick.
Canadian officials say that none of their athletes or support staff got sick during the championships.
“We took a number of additional measures (in addition to pre-travel vaccines/medications) such as protecting water bottles from exposure to the water of the lagoa (lagoon), covered all open scratches or sores, and washed with antiseptic soap after every session,” Peter Cookson, high performance director for Rowing Canada Aviron, told Reuters.
“While there were a few reported illnesses from some who stayed in the same hotel as us, we feel the extra precautions we took assisted in keeping our illness rate to zero,” he added.
Last month, the AP published a story after it analyzed waters that will be used for swimming and boating competitions during next year’s Summer Olympics in Rio. The findings showed that the waters were contaminated with human feces, with the potential to cause severe illness.
The World Health Organization said they would not issue an “official recommendation” on viral testing, instead leaving that task up to the local Olympic organizing committee in Rio.
More than 10,000 athletes from over 200 countries are expected to compete in the Olympics, which start Aug. 5, 2016. Around 1,400 athletes are expected to come into contact with polluted water.
- Scooby Axson