RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Canoeists at an Olympic test event complained Friday about the polluted water at the venue, but were most outspoken about aquatic plants that tangled with their oars and rudders.
"I think really the most important thing they have to do is to work with the plants," German canoeist Franziska Weber said. "Because it's not fair. We work four years only for this moment, and to lose then because of plants — it's hard."
She described the water color at the Olympic canoeing venue as "red and brown. It's not the typical water color."
Weber joked that the effect on boat speeds of dragging weeds along was like "running up against a wall."
Her teammate Sebastian Brendel, a gold medalist three years ago in London, added: "This is just a test, but for next year they must clean the water."
Simon Toulson, general secretary of the International Canoe Federation, promised the weed problem would be cleared up for next year's Olympics. He said weeds had just been cut and had floated to the surface. Next year, he said, there will be time to collect the floating plants.
Toulson characterized the polluted water as presenting "very little risk" to athletes.
"The statistics point to the fact that falling in the water and drinking a little bit of it from this lake isn't a major health risk," he said.
He pointed to readings this week by the Rio state government that showed acceptable bacterial levels at the canoeing venue, partly because Rio has received little rain recently. When it rains, untreated sewage and debris gushes into the lagoon from hilltop slums that lack sanitation treatment plants.
The state government tests only for bacterial levels, not viral levels.
An independent water analysis conducted by The Associated Press, published July 30, showed high virus levels from raw sewage in all Rio Olympic waters. This included the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, the canoeing and rowing venue.
The lagoon registered the highest readings in AP's five-month study, ranging between a low of 17.3 million viruses per liter, to a high of 1.7 billion per liter.
Water experts contacted by AP said a level of 1,000 would be considered "highly alarming" and advised people to avoid contact with water. A risk assessment expert said with a viral count of 1,000, the risk of infection was 99 percent, although being infected does not mean a person will automatically fall ill.
Carlos Nuzman, head of the Rio Olympic organizing committee, said earlier this week that viral testing would be done on Rio's waters. This marked a reverse after previously saying, along with the International Olympic Committee, that bacterial testing was sufficient.
Rio organizers, however, said they will not move a venue — no matter the test results.
Toulson said his federation had no plans to change venues.
"If the situation changes, we would look at contingency plans that we would put in place," he said. "The idea is to stay in the boat, not to be in the water. If it was swimming, maybe it would be different."
To see the AP's summary findings and methodology of its study on Rio's water quality: http://apne.ws/1IFxS9h
Filipe de Almeida of AP partner agency SNTV contributed to this report.
Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP