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Rio 2016 - 49er medalist hospitalised after Olympic Test event

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com on 27 Aug 2015
Bronze medalists, Erik Heil and Thomas Plossel (GER) sailing in the 2015 Pre-Olympic Test regatta, Rio de Janeiro Sailing Energy/ISAF
Bronze medal winning helmsman Erik Heil (GER) has been admitted to a German hospital following his return from the Pre-Olympic Test Regatta sailed out of the Marina da Gloria and Guanabara Bay.

Heil is suffering from severe inflammations on his legs and one hip. The inflammations started on the plane trip from Rio de Janerio, where the Pre-Olympic regatta finished last weekend and was hospitalized soon after getting off the plane. Currently Heil is being treated in the well known Charité hospital in Berlin. He is at home in between treatment sessions.

German sailing correspondent Tatjana Pokorny, who has covered sailing at six Olympic Regattas, told Sail-World.com that one inflammation (8 cm long) had to be cut out in the hospital two days ago. Doctors have diagnosed a bacterial infection, says Pokorny. 'They are now waiting for results of lab analysis. They cut out one inflammation. In total he had five. Four on the legs. One at the hip. The first of them developed at the Regatta and they got more inflamed on the flight home,' Pokorny said by email.



'The extremely painful operation had to be done without anesthesia as you cannot anesthetize inflammations. The only alternative would have been a morphine syringe into his thigh which Heil did not want. Heil is now taking broad spectrum antibiotics', said Pokorny.

Heil blames the polluted water of the Marina and Guanabara bay for his infected legs. Tests prior to the Pre-Olympic event revealed that ingestion of a teaspoon of the polluted water would be enough to cause significant health issues.

One Korean sailor was hospitalized during the event, missing a day's racing. Another New Zealand sailor was also advised not to sail, missing three races, suffering a gastric illness. Sources at the regatta told Sail-World that he had been ill for four days.


In both cases the response of officials was to delay any direct connection with the pollution issues at the Olympic venue, and wait for the outcome of tests. They also claimed that the incidence of infections was about normal for a sailing regatta of this type.

'Never in my life have I had any inflammations on my legs,' Heil told Pokorny. 'Never! I would think that this is a result of our constant contact with the water in Guanabara Bay. The sewerage of the City Hospital goes directly into the Marina da Gloria. I can only hope that I did not catch one of these multi-resistant things that can really dismantle you.“

Heil cannot train at all in what remains of the European sailing season. He is still waiting for the results of a laboratory analysis. He and his doctors believe that these inflammations are the result of contact with infested waters, says Pokorny.

Prior to the start of the Pre-Olympic Test Event the 49er class website outlined the continuing continuing controversy regarding pollution levels in the Rio waters.


'The Rio 2016 officials prepared a press conference describing their extensive efforts and have been 100% open in their working on the situation, including having already cleaned up 8 of the 17 highest polluting sources to Guanabara Bay. However, the numbers are staggering with 25 meters cubed per second, so 25,000 liters of raw sewage entering Guanabara Bay each second currently. Most disturbing is the three open sewer lines still draining into the Marina De Gloria, the small area where the sailors launch. The construction is 50% complete on blocking that sewage for 2016 but that does not protect the sailors currently.

'Sailors have been warned to wear shoes at all times and shower thoroughly and completely immediately after exiting the water due to the sewage situation in the marina. The local are using bio remediation, which is basically introducing good bacteria to counter the bad bacteria from the sewage within the marina area. However, the activity against bacteria does now counter the risk of viruses, covered by the AP two weeks ago. Since the AP report, ISAF agreed to start testing for viruses but then changed their minds once they figured out the WHO does not have a complete standard. Breaking news now is that the WHO advised to continue testing, and ISAF will now have to decide how to approach the continuing issues.'

'Most sailors are putting on a brave face, as reported by the New York Times, since there are few other options available to them. Should illness strike personally they may change their tune.'

'Meanwhile, at the regatta center at least two 49er teams have been taken ill in recent days though both have now recovered in time for the start of racing. Should a top team in contention fall ill from any of the classes it will be interesting to hear the responses from local and international officials.'



At the end of the Pre-Olympic Test Event the newly appointed ISAF CEO Peter Sowery indicated that the world sporting body was unhappy with the water qukaity at the Olympic venue which was selected to showcase Sailing as an Olympic sport.

'If we can't get the water to a level, then we'll move it outside (to the Atlantic Ocean) for sure,' Peter Sowrey told The Associated Press on the final day of an Olympic test event.

Sowrey is reported to have said one course for the test event inside the bay was closed after floating rubbish hindered racing for two days.

AP also reports that Sowery complained the ISAF had received no data during the week-long Olympic test from the state body that monitors water quality. A check of the website for Inea -- the state institute -- showed it had reported water quality on the bay only once in the past 10 days.

'We are not happy as a federation from the reporting on the water,' Sowrey said. 'We're not getting the reporting we expected to get.'

Prior to the start of the Test event an independent five-month analysis by the AP published July 30 showed dangerously high levels of viruses from human sewage at all Rio Olympic water venues for sailing, rowing, canoeing, triathlon and distance swimming.

The IOC has declined to endorse testing for viruses, which can cause stomach and respiratory ailments that could knock an athlete out of competition.

The reaction of several top sailing teams has been to hunker down and sail through the pollution issue. Work-arounds advocated by some coaches include improving sailors' immune systems to be more resistant to the polluted water to guzzling copious amounts of Coke if polluted water is ingested.

Other teams have admitted to conducting secret research into the pollution issues, in the hope that their medical teams can find some medication/immunization edge which can be used to competitive advantage against teams that lack the resources to undertake similar testing and research.

The same teams openly advocate sailing in the waters of Rio de Janeiro and Guanabara Bay, and deny there is a serious issue.

With attitudes like that from the sailors and coaches, coupled with the sabre-rattling of sailing administrators, there is little real chance of an improvement in the 12 months that remain to the 2016 Olympics.

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