The Rio Olympics Organizing Committee resumes its aggressive slate of Olympics test events in the wake of the Rio Carnival celebration. During the next four weeks, six of its eight events will be held outdoors amidst worries about contracting the Zika virus. Hundreds of athletes the world over will be swooping into Rio to test not only their skills, but also their mettle in Brazil – the epicenter of this mosquito-borne virus epidemic that has infected at least 1.5 million nationals.
Last month, the indoor wrestling event within the newly constructed Olympic Park arena challenged both Rio Olympic organizers as well as medal hopefuls. Rio de Janeiro workers were tasked with fumigating around the Carioca wrestling arena in late January during this contest.
Yet, worries about contracting the Zika virus swarmed overseas and Brazilian competitors alike. Native grappler Aline Silva said in a CBC interview, “For me, it’s very worrying. The biggest problem is in training and competing is when I can’t use it [repellent].”
Anxious athletes from other countries also took precautions. American Adeline Gray was barred from swimming while in Rio de Janeiro. “Unfortunately we’re not spending too much time outside. We’re wearing long sleeves, long pants and just making sure we have on as much bug spray as we can,” she said to the media.
But now, as the test event slate turn to the outdoors, there is even greater cause for alarm. Rugby, modern pentathlon, race walk and golf will all be contested on fields, courses, and along city streets. The golf course itself was built near marshy lands and has two man-made ponds and several water hazards – all breeding grounds for mosquitos.
Further, both divers and synchronized swimmers will compete in the Maria Lenk Aquatics Center. Unlike many past Olympic stadiums that have hosted these events, this 2016 Summer Olympics venue is open-air – a purposeful cost-cutting measure taken by the frugal Rio Olympics committee. On Friday, a diving administrator Cassius Duran remarked to Reuters about the athletes’ anxieties, “They are concerned and are being given advice on how to proceed.”
But refraining from the outdoors, wearing long sleeves, and maintaining a sufficient layer of bug repellent are unreasonable asks. And fumigators will be hard pressed to treat these competition sites, as effectively as the confined wrestling stadium.
“This anxiety has to kind of subside so you can focus on what you are doing,” she said. “If you are worried about that in the back of your mind, then you’re not doing your job well enough,” said Gray.