Prior to the start of the men’s marathon swimming on Tuesday, athletes were standing in the water of Copacabana, splashing it on their faces, and some even put a bit in their mouths. Look, I understand they couldn’t follow the advice to simply not “put your head under water,” but willfully ingesting the questionable swimming medium seemed a bit much.
We’ve heard a lot about the polluted waters of Rio de Janeiro, from raw sewage to super bacteria to a dead body washing up on shore. Considering these reports, you’d think that all 51 of the marathon swimmers would have the runs by now, if not worse. But like a few other ill omens of the Rio games, it’s another foretold disaster that didn’t come to pass. (Granted, there could be an incubation period.)
Part of this has to do with measures taken by the athletes, like vaccinations prior to travel and preventative antibiotics. Another more surprising reason is that Rio is hardly the worst conditions marathon swimmers have had to face.
Guanabara Bay, adjacent to Copacabana, is legit gross, but apparently the effect of Atlantic Ocean currents and the topography of the coast help keep Copacabana much less horrifying. Compared with the jellyfish-infested waters of Australia, swimming with dysentery in the Nile, the opaque, bio-waste waters of Hong Kong, and the paralyzing currents in Mexico, Rio seems fine, though not ideal. While cleaner water would certainly have been preferable, it doesn’t seem like the athletes were put in imminent danger.
Regarding what the swimmers care more about, their performance, the Dutch swept gold in the 10k with Ferry Weertman’s photo finish in the men’s event and Sharon Van Rouwendaal’s decisive lead in the women’s event.
More dramatic was the women’s chase for silver when competitor Aurélie Muller of France was disqualified due to grappling Rachele Bruni of Italy at the finish line. If the disqualification holds, Brazil will have won its first medal in swimming via Poliana Okimoto.