Olympics making progress cleaning green-tinged diving pool
Abby Johnston set her alarm for 5:45 a.m. Friday, intent on getting in an early morning warm-up before the first individual diving event of the Rio Olympics.
When she arrived at the pool, it was closed.
"I was a little frustrated, to say the least," the American diver said. "A little cranky, because it was early too."
In another embarrassment for the Maria Lenk Aquatics Center, a planned practice session had to be called off to give officials more time to clean the green-tinged water — a four-days-and-counting scenario that prompted Johnson to dub it "the Swamp."
"It's always changing," she said.
At least the pool appears to be heading in the right direction. After reopening in the early afternoon, the pool was a lighter shade of green and appeared to be much closer to its normal color.
"It's not as green," Johnston said. "But it's a little murkier. Underwater, I just try to keep my eyes closed."
The water suddenly changed color Tuesday, midway through the synchronized diving events. Officials insisted the water was safe for competing, even after a larger, adjacent pool used for water polo and synchronized swimming also turned green.
Mario Andrada, chief spokesman for the local organizing committee, stressed that the pool was safe for competition, clearing the way for the preliminaries of women's 3-meter springboard.
He conceded that some athletes had been bothered by the water, but said that was a result of efforts to clean the pool.
"We reiterate what we have been saying all along — the water does not offer any threat to the health of the athletes," he said. "In the first day of this water situation, one or two athletes complained about their eyes being itchy. This was a result that the first reaction when we saw the water turning green was to use one of the chemicals — chlorine — that is very common in swimming pools. We reduced immediately the quantity. We retested the water and it was totally within the parameters."
British diver Tom Daley, who won bronze in the synchro platform event, commented on the state of the pool in a Twitter post.
"Hopefully that means we haven't been diving in anything too bad the last couple of days!" Daley said.
Andrada said officials were caught off guard by the pool's deteriorating condition.
"Chemistry is not an exact science," he said. "Some things, as you can see, went longer than expected."
Rain the past couple of days made it even tougher to get the water color back to normal.
"The rain doesn't help," Andrada said. He added that athletes had access to dry-land training in the morning, but conceded that "was not ideal."
He explained that the changing color of the pool was the result of increased alkaline levels, much like aquarium water can turn green when not monitored properly.
"When we went to fix the green, there was a discussion about the best chemicals. We can't use too much chemicals in the water because athletes are training in it," Andrada said. "We certainly could have done better in the beginning to prevent the water from turning green. Once it turned green, we again made another bit of a mistake."
The second American diver, Kassidy Cook, said the water wasn't a problem during the competition.
"It's just a different color. It doesn't really change anything," she said. "I actually kind of like it because it makes spotting easier. When the sky's blue and the water's blue, you can get them confused."
Johnston said she was never told the pool would be closed until 1 p.m. local time — finally reopening about 2 1-2 hours before the competition. She vented her anger on Twitter, writing that "#FixTheSwamp" should become a trending topic.
"It just speaks to the communication issues we've faced a number of times since we've been here," said Johnston, who still managed to qualify for Saturday's semifinals with the sixth-highest score.
She wasn't concerned about competing in green water.
Well, except for one little matter.
"I'm worried about my hair," she said, smiling as she brushed back her locks. "If my hair turns green, I will send my hair-dye bill to the Olympics."