Olympic test: storms, out­ages, Zika

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Front Page - By XIN­HUA in Rio de Janeiro

Divers ex­pe­ri­enced sun­shine, thun­der­storms and power fail­ures in an out­door venue at the on­go­ing FINA Div­ing World Cup, which is also a Rio 2016 Olympic test event and Olympic qual­i­fier.

The Div­ing World Cup is staged at the Maria Lenk Aquat­ics Cen­tre from Feb 19-24. In to­tal, 272 ath­letes from 49 coun­tries and re­gions com­pete for 88 spots in the Rio Olympic div­ing com­pe­ti­tion. The divers also have to avoid mos­qui­toes in or­der to pre­vent Zika, as the mos­quito-borne virus is sus­pected in an in­crease in a rare birth de­fect in Brazil.

“This event will re­ally be a re­al­is­tic sim­u­la­tion for the Games,” said Ed­uardo Fal­cao, Rio 2016 com­pe­ti­tion ser­vices man­ager. Staff from 36 de­part­ments of the Rio 2016 or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee will be work­ing along­side 462 vol­un­teers. All op­er­a­tions re­lated to the com­pe­ti­tion, ser­vices pro­vided to ath­letes and of­fi­cials, se­cu­rity and ath­lete ac­com­mo­da­tions will be tested at an “Olympic level”.

It is the first test event to fea­ture the Na­tional Force and Na­tional Pen­i­ten­tiary Depart­ment — a to­tal of 300 agents from the two or­ga­ni­za­tions, as well as of­fi­cers from the fed­eral, civil and mil­i­tary po­lice, fire of­fi­cers and traf­fic agents.

The aquat­ics fa­cil­ity, which hosted the 2007 Pan- Amer­i­can Games, was re­fur­bished by Rio 2016 or­ga­niz­ers for the Olympic div­ing, syn­chro­nized swim­ming and wa­ter polo com­pe­ti­tions.

It re­mains as an out­door venue, how­ever, which pro­vided divers with nu­mer­ous chal­lenges as the weather changes con­tin­u­ously in Rio’s sum­mer sea­son.

The first day’s com­pe­ti­tion on Feb 19 saw the women’s syn­chro­nized 10m plat­form pre­lim­i­nary start with tem­per­a­tures in the up­per 30s and daz­zling sun­shine. While in the af­ter­noon’s fi­nal of the same cat­e­gory, a thun­der­storm sud­denly came.

How­ever, the cur­rent world cham­pi­ons Lui Huixia and her part­ner Chen Ruolin were not af­fected by the rain and took first place with a bril­liant dis­play of div­ing.

“The rain dur­ing our com­pe­ti­tion had a slight im­pact on us; be­fore we came to Rio, we were fully aware of the weather con­di­tions at this out­door venue,” Chen said.

In that evening’s men’s syn­chro­nized 3m spring­board fi­nal, the rain stopped but the wind came in­stead. A to­tal of 12 divers fin­ished six rounds of dives in the rel­a­tive cold.

Chi­nese pair Cao Lin and Qin Kai qual­i­fied with a first- place fin­ish ear­lier in the day and went into the fi­nal look­ing to take gold. Un­for­tu­nately, the pair made mis­takes in the third and fifth rounds, and the Ger­man duo of Stephan Feck and Pa­trick Haus­d­ing ex­celled at the right time and pushed the Chi­nese pair to se­cond place.

“To dive in this venue is dif­fi­cult. In the morn­ing’s pre­lim­i­nary ses­sion, the sun­shine is very daz­zling, while at night is a bit cold. The con­di­tion from day to night changes a lot,” said Qin, an Olympic and world cham­pion.

FINA, the Fed­er­a­tion In­ter­na­tionale de Nata­tion, used to ask or­ga­niz­ers to put a roof on the out­door venue and com­plained openly about it to Rio’s Mayor Ed­uardo Paes. The city de­clined to spend the money, and said the fed­er­a­tion was too de­mand­ing.

In a let­ter to the mayor from FINA, the swim­ming body said con­di­tions like those at the div­ing venue “will neg­a­tively af­fect the safety con­di­tions and the level of per­for­mances of our ath­letes”.

Cor­nel Mar­culescu, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of FINA, ac­knowl­edged the let­ter but said that FINA had to be sat­is­fied with what the or­ga­niz­ers pro­vided.

“It’s not a mat­ter any­more to com­plain, it a mat­ter now to do the best event pos­si­ble,” Mar­culescu said. “Ev­i­dently, it’s much bet­ter if you have it in­doors, but we have to run the best pos­si­ble event in th­ese con­di­tions.”

The power sup­ply is also af­fected. The first two days’ com­pe­ti­tions sus­tained tem­po­rary power fail­ures with the broad­cast’s large screen in­ter­rupted and re­porters from around the world had to work in a dark me­dia cen­ter at times.

The out­ages had an im­pact on four-time Olympic gold medal­ist Wu Minxia of China, who won the women’s syn­chro­nized 3m spring­board with her part­ner Shi Ting­mao on Feb 20.

“In the first round of our fi­nal, we even don’t know the re­sult be­cause the screen didn’t show it,” Wu said.

Brazil’s Zika virus out­break also had made some ath­letes and tourists fear­ful of be­ing in the coun­try. The Olympic host coun­try has had 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple in­fected by Zika since early 2015.

While it causes only mild flu­like symp­toms in most peo­ple, sci­en­tists sus­pect when it strikes a preg­nant woman, it can cause her baby to be born with mi­cro­cephaly, or an ab­nor­mally small head.

Ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese div­ing team man­ager Zhou Ji­hong, the or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee has pro­vided re­pel­lent to teams and also raised aware­ness about Zika preven­tion. A daily sweep of the venue will be con­ducted to re­move mos­qui­toes.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

China’s Shi Ting­mao (top, in ac­tion photo) and Wu Minxia com­pete dur­ing the women’s 3m Spring­board Syn­chro­nized fi­nal div­ing event at the FINA World Cup at the Maria Lenk Aquat­ics Cen­tre in Rio de Janeiro on Feb 20. In­set: The women dis­play their gold medals dur­ing the awards cer­e­mony for the event. In to­tal, 272 ath­letes from 49 coun­tries and re­gions are com­pet­ing for 88 spots in the Rio Olympic div­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

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