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So why did Rio’s Olympic diving and water polo pools turn green?
Other than the performances of the world’s top athletes, one of the talking points of the first week of the Rio 2016 Olympics has been the pool water turning green at the Maria Lenk Aquatic Centre, the second of the Games’ aquatic venues.
While Rio’s key aquatic venue, the Estádio Olímpico de Esportes Aquáticos (Olympic Aquatics Stadium) is an all-new construction for the 2016 Games, using state-of-the-art technology, the Maria Lenk Aquatic Centre was first built for the 2007 Pan American Games, and was refurbished by the Games organising committee for Rio 2016 where it is hosting diving and synchronized swimming as well as water polo group games in a temporary 25 metre pool.
Having presented clear water during the first two days of Games competition, the morning of Tuesday 9th August saw British Bronze medal winning diver Tom Daley tweet a picture of the diving pool having turned green next to its deep blue water polo neighbour with the caption: “Ermmm…what happened?!”
Venue officials were initially unable to provide an explanation for the sudden transformation to the pool where Daley (and teammate Dan Goodfellow) had won bronze the previous night, leading to several days of conflicting advice.
First, the BBC reported that an official from the world aquatics governing body, FINA, had claimed the pool had been dyed on purpose to reduce glare. However, that claim was quickly ridiculed.
Media reports also advised that competitors weren't too pleased by its mysterious new colour, but, after being assured it was safe to swim in, the venue's previously scheduled events continued as normal.
Tuesday then saw a spokesman for the Rio 2016 organisers explain “it’s very important to the Rio 2016 organising committee to ensure a very high quality field of play. Water tests at Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre diving pool have been conducted and there was found to be no risk whatsoever to athletes. We’re investigating what the cause of the situation was. I’m happy to report the competition was successfully completed.”
However, by Wednesday, the colour had begun spreading, and the pool used for water polo and synchronized swimming also started to go from blue to green. Officials then claimed “a proliferation of algae" has caused by "a sudden decrease in (the pools) alkalinity" and its subsequent colour change.
A FINA statement then advised “the reason for the unusual water colour observed during the Rio 2016 diving competitions is that the water tanks ran out of some of the chemicals used in the water treatment process.
"As a result, the pH level of the water was outside the usual range, causing the discolouration.
"The FINA Sport Medicine Committee conducted tests on the water quality and concluded there was no risk to the health and safety of the athletes, and no reason for the competition to be affected."
A later media report reported organisers as suggesting heavy rain had diluted the chemicals in the water.
While insisting of "absolutely no risk" to athletes, the Washington Post advised that some water polo players complaining that their eyes began burning because officials have put "so much chlorine in (the pools) that people can't see.”
As of Thursday, Rio Organising Committee Spokesman Mario Andrada confirmed that "a sudden decrease in the alkanity of the diving pool" caused the blue-to-green change.
Andrada told reporters “the water polo pool and synchronised swimming pool is also being affected
"We have treated both pools during the night and the alkalinity levels have already improved.
"We expect the colour to be back to blue very shortly. We understand a series of factors have affected the colour and alkalinity of the water."
Andrada added “the people in charge of the pool and of checking could and should have done more intensive tests.
"We followed the normal routine, we probably failed to note that with more athletes the water could be affected in a different way."
FINA’s Wednesday statement also emphasised that “ the swimming pools installed at the Maria Lenk complex are not Myrtha Pools equipment”, adding “the FINA Partner is only responsible for the installation and maintenance of the competition and training pools at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, presently being used for the swimming events at the Rio 2016 Games.”
While not mentioned, the FINA statement also absolved leading international water filtration company Neptune Benson, whose Defender filters are installed at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium from any blame for the change in water colour.
Commenting to Neptune Benson partners and representatives, Michael Turner, Vice President International Business Development - Neptune Benson wrote “the bottom line is that these pools (at the Maria Lenk Aquatic Centre) were the existing pools - using sand filters - from the Pan-American games several years ago.
“At this point this is a great testament to the filtration of using Defenders. Even FINA will be issuing a report post games with their analysis.”
Click here to view FINA’s statement of 10th August.
Article amended 6pm, Sunday 14th August.
The pools at the Rio 2016 Olympics are the subject of a feature in the July/August 2016 issue of Australasian Leisure Management.
Images: Diver Tom Daley's tweet alert about the change of water colour at the Olympic diving venue (top), the emerald green diving pool (middle) and the Maria Lenk Aquatic Centre at Rio's Bario Olympic Park (below).
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