By Jim Sheehan//USA Swimming President | Tuesday, September 8, 2015
It was just a few weeks ago that there was a celebration in Brazil, and especially in Rio de Janeiro, to mark one year before the Olympic Games. A week before that, the U.S. had its first three swimmers qualify for those Olympics based on the results of the Open Water 10K at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia.
On the men's side, Jordan Wilimovsky won the event and Sean Ryan finished fourth, while Haley Anderson placed ninth in the women's competition.
Congratulations to each of them and their coaches for their performances and being among the first athletes to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team.
There have also been several news reports about an issue that is critically important to the safety of these three athletes and all Olympians who will compete in the open waters around Rio de Janeiro. That issue is the quality of the water where the competitions will be held in the sports of Open Water Swimming, Rowing, Sailing, Canoe/Kayak and Triathlon.
Athlete safety is our most important concern. Nothing should jeopardize that. Winning medals should not be at the expense of an individual’s health. USA Swimming never encourages athletes to swim in a venue where they have concerns about their safety.
Over the past month, we have voiced our opinion and established clear communication channels on the issue with our partners, the U.S. Olympic Committee and FINA. We are gathering information and actively sharing these findings with our athletes and coaches.
The local organizing committee has been testing water at all the venues for bacterial levels. The results vary by location and will continue to be measured on an even more frequent schedule as the Games approach. Thus far, the bacterial levels generally look good for the Copacabana area where Open Water swimming will be held. Over the last week, the Rio Organizing Committee stated it will start testing for viruses. This is an important step and USA Swimming, along with the USOC and FINA, will be closely monitoring the results of those tests.
An open water 10K "test event" was held in Rio a couple of weeks ago and representatives from FINA, USA Swimming and the USOC were in attendance. The purpose of the test event was to see areas where things worked well and identify aspects of the competition where adjustments need to be made. As a whole, the comments on the event were complimentary from all key constituents.
I am very much looking forward to supporting the Team USA open water swimmers in Rio, but what I most want to see is a safe environment for all the athletes competing. I believe the work that is being done now and for the next year will provide the best opportunity for the open water 10K. Go USA!!