1 Aug 2016

Rio is a test of athletes' survival skills

10:26 am on 1 August 2016

Zika, superbugs, sewage and security concerns all stand in the way of success for New Zealand athletes at the Rio Olympics - and that's even before they have got to the starting line to take on the best in the world.

The 199-strong New Zealand team is the biggest contingent of athletes from the country to compete at an Olympics.

Medals are what all the athletes competing in Rio are hoping to bring home but many could bring back something much more serious.

The Rio Olympics are a health hazard.

From the mosquito-borne Zika virus and the superbug at the rowing venue to severe pollution problems at the sailing site and knife-point robberies, it's no walk in the park.

Amid a two-year recession, unemployment and inflation has shot up along with Rio's murder and burglary rates.

A recent survey showed nearly two out of three Brazilians believed hosting the Games would cause the country more harm than good.

A couple of weeks back visitors to the 'Marvellous City' were welcomed by protesting police, who had not been paid, holding banners saying 'Welcome to Hell', something Australian paralympian Liesl Tesch can relate to after she was held up at gunpoint in June.

"Two guys jumped out in front of us. The guy in front of me had a gun and said 'dinero' and I lifted up my shirt and said I didn't have any money and then he lifted the gun up at me and then he pushed me on the shoulder ... and I fell down on the cobblestones."

During the games 85,000 police and soldiers will be on the streets of Rio - twice as many as in London four years ago.

The New Zealand chef de mission Rob Waddell had confidence in the security arrangements and would not be implementing a curfew for athletes.

NZOC chef de mission Rob Waddell.

Rob Waddell says he's confident in Rio security arrangements. Photo: Photosport

"We've been pretty blunt with our messaging as to what they [athletes] are faced with, what they might be faced with and what they've got to do and how to use their common sense and we will continue to do that throughout the Games," he said.

Waddell said there would also be strict protocols around athletes making sure they let their managers know when and where they were going and what time they would be returning to the village.

The Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects in babies, has prompted calls for the Games to be postponed but the World Health Organisation said there was no public health justification for that.

Rio mayor Eduardo Paes has also tried to placate fears over Zika.

"This is not a big issue. Dengue fever, which we have during summer time is much worse than the Zika virus and nobody talks about dengue fever," said Paes.

"It's kind of weird for us when we listen to the [international] news ... sometimes I think people see it like ebola (but) it's not like that. It's not a big issue."

The New Zealand shot putter Valerie Adams said the disease had not prompted her to have second thoughts about competing.

"The show must go on. I'm not going to give up my Olympic dream because of Zika.

"It's there. I know it's there [and] I'm gonna be there."

The sailing venue presents another health concern.

Raw sewage flows into Guanabarra Bay from the favelas around it and efforts to clean it up have been futile.

New Zealand boardsailor Bruce Kendall won a gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and has been coaching Hong Kong and Dutch sailing crews in preparation for the Games. He has spent plenty of time on the water in Rio.

"The water quality inside the Olympic marina has been so bad that walking down the dock to hop into the coach boat you almost want to throw up, the smell was so bad from raw sewage," said Kendall

New Zealand Finn class sailor Josh Junior, who will be competing in his first Olympics is not letting the polluted bay affect his enjoyment of the Olympics experience.

"It's just part of yacht racing ... we're taking precautions around things like water bottles and not leaving them in our boat.

Finn sailor Josh Junior

Finn sailor Josh Junior Photo: Photosport

"Each water bottle has a proper cap on it and when you are out on the water we've got stuff to clean your hands before you eat anything so it's just about being careful about what you do and what you eat and not letting too much of the ocean into your mouth."

So the so called 'Marvellous City' awaits New Zealand's athletes as does a supreme test of not only their athletic abilities but also, seemingly, their survival skills.

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