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Olympic sailors concerned about water pollution ahead of Rio Games

August 26, 2015
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KIM LANDERS: It’s now less than a year until the torch lights the cauldron at the Rio Olympics.

After the success of Beijing and London, the run up to these Games isn’t so smooth, as Australian athletes are already finding out.

Sailor Nathan Outteridge won a gold medal in the 49er class in London with his crewmate Iain Jensen, and is out to defend that title.

But the course in Rio presents its own challenges, particularly water pollution.

Nathan Outteridge is speaking here with our North America correspondent Ben Knight in Rio de Janeiro.

NATHAN OUTTERIDGE: It’s a very tricky venue; you just look around the area of Rio and you look at the topography and there’s hills everywhere, not just sort of in the distance out the back, but like right where the wind comes though and it makes it a pretty big challenge for racing.

You get lots of win corridors and, if you sail outside those wind corridors the wind goes from like 10 knots to five knots and it’s a big speed difference.

And on top of that there’s huge currents here, like the water might only go up and down very little, but the flow of it on the racecourse can be up to three knots. When you’re doing six or seven knots of boats speed up wind very light winds, the current’s is very important.

BEN KNIGHT: And is the water quality improved since last year?

NATHAN OUTTERIDGE: It seems to have a little bit, like out on the racecourse itself, there seems to be less debris floating around. Up until last night we haven’t had any rain here for about a month and so I think, when it doesn’t rain it’s quite clean, but the moment it rains I think a lot of stuff gets washed out.

So we’ll see how it goes today when we get out there; we had quite a lot of rain with the storm that just went through.

But behind us in the marina here it’s still a little bit dirty, a bit of pollution sort of getting pumped into this marina, so you just got to be pretty careful launching your boat; don’t swallow any of the water and when you get out there you get plenty of spray in your face so you just try and spit it out and keep going.

BEN KNIGHT: This is all about getting used to the conditions, testing it, that’s why they call it the test event. But it would also mean a lot to you to win, because that was your lead in to the last Olympics.

NATHAN OUTTERIDGE: Yeah absolutely, you know we’re here to test and learn the conditions, but it’s also a competition as well. And you know a lot of the medals that were won in London were all won a year before at the test events. So…

BEN KNIGHT: Including yours.

NATHAN OUTTERIDGE: Exactly, we won gold in the test event in the lead up to London and then we won it again 12 months later. So, for us, it’s important to perform out here. Last year we were second here and at the moment we’re sitting in fourth with only a few points ahead of us.

So a good day today is going to ensure we’re going to be on the podium and we’d love to be standing on top of the podium because it means that you’re in a good position with a year to go and it’s just refining from there.

BEN KNIGHT: And what about Rio itself, you look around to cranes and construction and cleaning going on everywhere, what’s it been like getting around and navigating the city?

NATHAN OUTTERIDGE: It’s pretty manic here, you know the village that they’re trying to create here for the sailing is a construction site; it kind of looked like it was semi finished when we were here last year and the decided to tear it apart and start again.

But a lot of those logistics are just things that happen on the land and once you sail out of the harbour and on to the racecourse, you forget about it all. But you know it’s defiantly a big challenge here, just getting around.

BEN KNIGHT: We’re a year out from the games, three years obviously since the last one, how quickly have they gone for you?

NATHAN OUTTERIDGE: They’ve gone very fast. You know we took a year out of our Olympic sailing and did some Americas Cup stuff and now Iain and I are heavily involved in an Americas Cup campaign, as well as the Olympic campaign.

So we’ve probably only had about six or seven days off this year. And you know as soon as this event ends we’re off to another Americas event in Sweden. So times fly, we’ve got a year to go and we’ve got to make the most of it, and I’m sure we will.

BEN KNIGHT: Do you think it’s going to be a good Games?

NATHAN OUTTERIDGE: I think it will. I think most Olympics, you know there’s a lot of hype about it, there’s a lot to be done in a short space of time to be ready, but we have seen a lot of transformation here since the last time we were here and every time we come back here we learn more and more about the event and we’re very confident that we’re going to perform well and I think, as an Olympics as a whole, it’s going to be a great event.

KIM LANDERS: That’s Nathan Outteridge speaking with our correspondent Ben Knight in Rio.

And as it turned out, Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen found the conditions at this test event just too challenging; they’re sitting in sixth place ahead of the medal round. 

Published by the ABC, 21/08/2015