Column: Filthy water nothing to make a stink about in Rio
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Apparently filthy water is nothing to make a stink about at the Olympics.
All seemed well Saturday at the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, a picturesque body of water not too far from the famed Copacabana Beach. Flanked by deep green mountains and gleaming white high rises, it looked to be the perfect spot for the world's best rowers to chase Olympic gold.
It didn't even smell that bad, though locals say there are many days the lagoon emanates odors usually associated with a toilet in bad need of plunging.
''This is a beautiful venue,'' Canadian rower Eric Woelfl said. ''How often do you get to row in a place with mountains, sun and a fantastic crowd? What more could we ask for as competitors?''
Uh, clean water might be nice. So would decontamination spray for the pair of Serbians who were last seen bobbing up and down in the water after becoming the first Olympians to capsize their boats in 12 years.
Milos Vasic and Nenad Bedik picked the wrong Olympics to take a header. An Associated Press investigation over the last year showed 1.73 billion adenoviruses per liter in the lagoon's water at one point, though by June the readings were down to 248 million adenoviruses.
Levels like that would have authorities in the U.S. closing down beaches and lakes and taking emergency measures to protect the public health.
Here in Rio they simply handed out bottles of hand sanitizer.
''We wash our mouths out with an anti-bacterial wash after rowing, and really try to prioritize our hygiene,'' said Australia's Kim Brennan. ''We try to avoid any hand to mouth contact and try to avoid getting any of the water in our mouths.''
That was dicey duty on the opening day of the Olympics, when the winds picked up and water not only sprayed over competitors but filled boats so much that some thought they might sink.
Rio is a dangerous city, something that anyone reading about these Olympics surely knows by now. Some spectators at the opening ceremony found that out Friday night when they came upon the body of a man who had been shot dead near Maracana Stadium, blood still coming from his wounds.
There was also a bizarre incident Saturday at the Olympic Equestrian Center, where a military bullet pierced the roof of the media tent and landed on the floor in front of startled reporters.
So maybe a little dirty water isn't so bad after all. Unless, of course, you're the one covered in it.
''I was greeted with a bottle of hand sanitizer on the dock. So, that's one thing,'' said Canada's Carling Zeeman, who rowed in a boat she said was filling with water.
If the water at Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon was bad, at least no rowers noticed anything fishy floating around in it. That figures to change when sailing opens at nearby Guanabara Bay, where helicopters and roving trash-collection boats will be employed to spot and remove floating rubbish that often clogs the bay.
Half of Rio's sewage flows untreated into Guanabara, which you might think would give Olympic organizers pause. The fact it didn't is that the bay looks beautiful on television, with Sugarloaf Mountain and the famous Christ the Redeemer statue in the background.
That's the same reason rowers were dipping their oars in a lagoon where last year thousands of dead fish washed up on shores. Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon looks good to everyone but the horrified scientists who test its waters.
Rowers are by nature a hardy bunch and this is the Olympics, so they weren't complaining much. There was more grumbling about the fact they held the race with white caps on the lagoon than the chance they had to get violently ill by coming into contact with the very water they race on.
''Obviously, we were pretty much swimming in it today, so we'll find out soon enough what's in there,'' Brennan said.
Listen to those running the sport, and Brennan and her fellow competitors should have no worries. Matt Smith, who heads FISA, the rowing federation, called the water ''swimming quality'' and suggested fears over getting sick from it were overblown.
On the opening day of a very troubled Olympics there were at least two drenched Serbs hoping he is right.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg