Weather, power failures, Zika affect Rio Olympic test events

Rio de Janeiro, Feb 21 (IANS) Contrasting weather — from sunshine to thunderstorm — coupled with power failure were what divers experienced this weekend at an outdoor venue at the ongoing FINA Diving World Cup which is also a Rio Olympic test event and Olympic qualifier.

The World Cup is being staged at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre from February) 19 to 24. In total, 272 athletes from 49 countries and regions are competing for 88 spots in the Rio Olympic diving competition. The divers also have to evade mosquitoes in order to prevent Zika as the mosquito-borne virus is possibly linked to an increase in a rare birth defect in Brazil, reports Xinhua.

“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 organising committee will be in action alongside 462 volunteers. All operations related to the competition, services provided to athletes and officials, security and athlete accommodation will be tested to 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 organisations, as well as officers from the federal, civil and military police, fire officers and traffic agents, are part of the test event.

The Rio 2016 organisers refurbished the venue for Olympic diving, synchronised swimming and water polo. However, it remains as an outdoor venue, which provides divers numerous challenges as the weather changes a lot from day-to-night in Rio’s summer.

Friday saw women’s synchronised 10m platform preliminary getting underway with temperatures in the upper 30s and dazzling sunshine. While in the afternoon’s final, a thunderstorm suddenly arrived. However, current world champions Lui Huixia and her partner Chen Ruolin were not affected and took first place with a brilliant display.

“The rain 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 on Saturday.

In the men’s synchronised 3m springboard final, the rain stopped but was replaced by the wind. A total of 12 divers finished six rounds in relatively cold weather.

Chinese pair Cao Lin and Qin Kai qualified first. In the final, the pair made mistakes and the German pair of Stephan Feck and Patrick Hausding pushed the Chinese pair down into second place.

“To dive at this venue is difficult. In the morning, the sunshine is very dazzling while at night is a bit cold. The conditions from day-to-night changes a lot,” Olympic and World Champion Qin said.

International Swimming Federation (FINA) asked organisers 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, FINA said conditions like those at the diving venue “will negatively affect the safety conditions and the level of performances of our athletes”. FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu acknowledged the letter but said that FINA had to be satisfied with what the organisers provided.

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

Within the current conditions, power supply also gets into trouble. The first two days’ competitions suffered temporary power failure with broadcast, large screen breaking off and reporters from around the world working in a totally dark media centre.

Four-time Olympic gold medallist Wu Minxia of China won the women’s synchronised 3m springboard with her partner Shi Tingmao on Saturday. “In the first round of our final, we didn’t even know the result because the screen didn’t show it,” said Wu.

Brazil’s Zika virus outbreak has also made athletes and tourists afraid of visiting the country. Brazil has 1.5 million people infected by Zika since early 2015. While it causes only mild flu-like symptoms, 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 organising committee provided repellents to teams and also introduced the information and raised awareness about Zika prevention. Besides, day-by-day cleaning inside the venue will help sweeping the mosquitoes away.

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