2016 Rio Olympics: Safety Concerns Mixed with Hope


Annie Haeger, from East Troy, WI, won the Yachtswoman of the Year Award in March. She received sailing’s highest honor in recognition of her results in the 470 Class competition. Haeger and her crew Briana Provancha of San Diego, CA, won gold at the Olympic test event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They won the event by seven points through 10 races in a highly competitive fleet featuring the gold and silver medal-winning boats from the London 2012 games. Upon receiving her award, Haeger said, “In winning this award, I’m not representing myself, but Team Haeger/Provancha as a whole. I am very blessed to have Briana in the front of my boat. I think she is the best crew in the U.S.” In an unusual move, but very poignant, Haeger brought Provancha to the podium to share the glory, and the two friends wrapped each other in a big bear hug. It was a magical moment for these two women, and a special time for all attending to share in their joy. At that time, your columnist had two thoughts: how lucky we are to have these amazing ambassadors representing the U.S. in the Olympics, and how much I wished that her crew could have received a Rolex, too.

The Associated Press reported on the Rio Olympics, stating, “America’s best medals bets for Rio are Haeger and Provancha in the women’s 470 Championships.” (Source: Scuttlebutt, www.sailingscuttlebutt.com.)

Fast forward. Rio is a mess, and news coming out of Brazil is downright terrible.

Annie Haeger and Briana Provancha will represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

According to a Scuttlebutt story, “Rio Games: Pollution Woes Caused by Financial Troubles,” published June 26, raw sewage and garbage litter Rio’s Guanabara Bay. The Olympic sailing venue, which lies in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain, has pollution as one of several major headaches for organizers and athletes ahead of the games. Brazil’s “difficult financial conditions” are at fault according to the Environment Secretary Andre Correa. He spoke of the failure of authorities to live up to their promises to clean up pollution ahead of the games. Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q: Can you swim in the bay? (A major concern to dinghy sailors.)
A: “It depends on the location. There are places where you can swim. I swam in the area where the sailing will be. There was major work, a 1.2-billion reais project ($356 million) but it’s not obvious to ordinary people. Knowing the financial difficulties of Brazil, whoever said the bay will be clean in less than 20, 25 years is lying.”
Q: The pollution of Guanabara Bay has been on the official agenda since the Earth Summit in 1992. What’s gone wrong?
A: “There was a major error in strategy and communication. There was an investment of about 2.5 billion reais ($741 million) and the local people were told that with this funding, the bay would be clean. Those who understand this issue know that this isn’t enough funding to overcome the challenges. We will have a clean bay the day the 15 municipalities bordering it have sewage treatment. Studies show that’s going to require 15 billion reais ($4.4 billion), and we’re far from that goal. Brazil is having a financial crisis and Rio state doesn’t have the money. That’s why the government decided to seek help from the private sector.”

Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay, where the sailing events will be held during the 2016 Olympic Games, is famously filthy.

CNN reported that sailors are learning the unique characteristics of Guanabara Bay: its currents, tides and wind patterns. Beautiful mountains surrounding the bay can be tricky for teams to read. Most teams have arrived early to try to get an edge on the interplay of wind and current. There is another obstacle, floating debris which can either slow down the boat speed, or worse, damage the boat.

There is some good news though. Rio just got a federal bailout a month before the Olympics begin. The Brazilian federal government issued a $2.9 billion (really $900 million) loan to finance Olympic security after it declared a state of financial emergency earlier this month.

There is still the worry about pollution, and the Zika virus concerns have not gone away. The games will be played during Brazil’s winter when mosquitoes are much less prevalent. Let’s hope that Rio will get it together before the start of the Olympics.


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