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Dirty Water Blamed for Sick Rowers at Brazil Olympic Trial

Thirteen rowers on the 40-member U.S. team came down with stomach illness at the World Junior Rowing Championships in Brazil -- a trial run for next summer's Olympics -- and the team doctor said she suspected it was due to pollution in the lake where the competition took place.

The event took place amid rising concerns about the water quality at venues for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, now less than a year away.

Brazil’s Polluted Waters Could Pose Risk to Olympic Athletes 2:52

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 Lake, 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.

Officials did not rule out that the Americans could have gotten ill from food or drinking water.

"We're not really sure. My personal feeling is, I think it's from the lake," Ackerman said.

Francia said she lacked the data and information to directly blame the illness on the venue, but added: "It just doesn't seem normal."

She warned athletes coming for the Olympics that "you should know when you're coming next year that you have to be smart about how you are preparing."

Francia said the U.S. team had taken precautions about competing in the polluted lake beneath Rio's picturesque Christ the Redeemer statue, "but maybe we were not as strict in enforcing them as we should have been from the beginning."

"As soon as kids started going down, we were bleaching oar handles, we were immediately washing hands after coming off the water," she said. "Other countries didn't allow water bottles at all. Other countries had water bottles in zip-locked bags."

US Rowing, which oversees the sport in the United States, said it is investigating what sickened the athletes, who range in age from 16-19. None are likely to be Olympians next year.

The Americans' experience is almost certain to raise more concerns for the Olympics. About 10,500 athletes will attend the Summer Games, and 1,400 will participate in rowing, sailing, triathlon, canoeing and distance swimming in the waters around Rio.