Belgian Olympian Evi Van Acker, who won the bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics for Women’s sailing in the Laser Radial class, is the first sailor to fall sick after sailing in the heavily polluted Guanabara Bay at this year's Rio Olympics.
Van Aker reported feeling ill after her races on Wednesday and her coach, Wil Van Bladel, believes that it was the water's fault. He said that both of Van Acker's poor performances of the week, and her current state, are caused by a severe intestinal infection that she developed while training in Rio this July.
“Evi caught a bacteria in early July that causes dysentery,” said Coach Van Bladel. “Doctors say this can seriously disrupt energy levels for three months. It became clear yesterday that she lacked energy during tough conditions. She could not use full force for a top condition. The likelihood that she caught it here during contact with the water is very big.”
According to Darryl Seibel, the World Sailing spokesman, Van Acker is the only sailor who has reported feeling sick during the Games so far, and that this appears to just be an isolated incident.
The possibility of Rio’s waters causing athletes to get sick is not out of the question, as multiple sources have noted the high number of bacteria living in the waters. German sailor Erik Heil, who competed at an Olympic test event last year, developed severe infections shortly after competing in the same waters that Van Acker is currently competing in. Although it was never explicitly confirmed that the water was the cause of the infections, Heil was convinced that the fault was in the water.
“I have never in my life had infections on the legs. Never!” Heil wrote on the Germany’s sailing team’s Olympic blog. “I assume I picked that up at the test regatta. The cause should be in the Marina da Gloria where there is a constant flow of wastewater from the city hospital.”
Even though Olympic officials have insisted that the water is perfectly safe, they have not succeeded is swaying public opinion.
Van Acker was a favorite to once again reach the podium at the Olympics, although right now she is currently sitting in 10th place. Thursday is the last day of the Laser Radial races.