2016 Rio Olympics

Today in Rio: Pool officials vs. one million gallons of water

Pool officials race the clock to replace water ahead of synchro events

An inspector takes a sample from the water polo pool which turned green in color in the Maria Lenk Aquatic Center at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016. (Matt Dunham/AP)

An inspector takes a sample from the water polo pool Aug. 10, 2016. (Matt Dunham, AP)

RIO DE JANEIRO — Olympic officials were working through the night to drain green-tinged water out of a pool at the troubled Maria Lenk Aquatics Center, and hoping they can pump in nearly 1 million gallons of clean water for synchronized swimming.

There wasn’t much room for error at a venue that has already become an Olympic laughingstock.

The whole process was supposed to be finished just four hours before the next event Sunday.

Mario Andrada, a spokesman for Rio 2016, said the “radical measure” was necessary to ensure clear water for both judges and competitors during synchronized swimming, an event that requires swimmers to spend much of their time underwater.

He stressed again that the kale-colored water posed no risk to the health of the athletes. An adjacent, smaller pool will continue to be used for the diving competition, even though it remains murky. American diver Abby Johnston has dubbed it “the swamp.”

“Of course it is an embarrassment because we are hosting the Olympic Games,” Andrada said. “It should be light blue, transparent. We could have done better in fixing it quickly. We learned a painful lesson the hard way.”

What if this solution doesn’t work?

Officials had a backup plan but wouldn’t disclose it. They could possibly move synchronized swimming to the 15,000-seat Olympic Aquatics Stadium, but that would require a major juggling of the schedule with water polo.

While the women’s 3-meter springboard semifinals were held at the diving end of the facility Saturday, the bigger pool was slowly being drained. It had already dropped several inches as officials scurried around the deck, checking the water level and hauling out pumps and hoses that were to be used for the transfer.

Gustavo Nascimento, director of venue management for Rio 2016, said the entire operation would take 10 hours _ six to drain the dirty water out of the competition pool and four to bring in clean water using the pumps and hoses. He said it should be completed by 7 a.m. Sunday, with the scheduled start of the duet free preliminary set for 11 a.m.

“That’s going to be an impressive feat,” American diver Kassidy Cook, “if they can pull it off.”

The larger pool had been used for water polo preliminary games. That sport was already scheduled to shift its remaining games to the Olympic Aquatics Stadium after the final session of swimming Saturday night.

The water in the diving well turned a dark shade of green Tuesday, and the larger pool at Maria Lenk began to turn the same colour the following day. While both pools seem to be improving a bit, Nascimento said there was not enough time to complete the cleaning process by Sunday.

He blamed a contractor for mistakenly dumping hydrogen peroxide into the pool late last week, which caused an adverse reaction when it mixed with chlorine. The dirty water will be disposed of using the city’s sewage system, which has already come under intense scrutiny for dumping untreated waste into waters that are being used for rowing, canoeing, sailing, triathlon and open water swimming.

There are two warmup pools at Maria Lenk, and neither was affected by the issues inside the arena. The one used by water polo teams will be drained since it won’t be needed after Saturday, while the synchronized swimmers will continue to have use of their practice pool.

Some divers have said the green water actually helps them during competition by giving them a contrast with the blue sky when they’re spinning through the air.

Others had a different view.

“Today was pretty gross,” Australia’s Maddison Keeney said after Saturday’s competition. “You’re standing on the stairs and you can’t see your feet, one and half meters down. When you’re standing up there it’s a bit off-putting. I’ve never had a pool like this ever before. I just try to close my eyes and close my mouth. Hopefully I am going up and not down.”

Andrada stressed that Rio officials had been able to solve myriad issues plaguing the games, but conceded they were out of short-term options when it came to the green water. A day before, he attempted to explain trouble fixing the water by declaring that “chemistry is not an exact science.”

“This is probably the only problem we were unable to solve quickly,” he said. “The embarrassment won’t last forever.”


Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.