Olympic test: storms, outages, Zika
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.
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.