A mishap. A real one. But the bad weather was solely to blame. Announced as a highlight of the preparations for the Paris 2024 Games, at least for its images and symbolic value, the open water swimming test event was cancelled on Sunday August 6. It was due to take place over the weekend in the Seine River in the heart of Paris, over a 10 km course.
The weather was to blame. The heavy rain that has fallen in the capital since the beginning of last week has upset the forecasts – and with them the schedule – of the COJO Paris 2024 and the Fédération française de natation (FFN), in charge of this 4th leg of the Open Water Swimming World Cup.
The rainfall caused the sewers to overflow and wastewater to flow back into the Seine. As a result, pollution levels were much higher than those recorded last month.
Initially, the COJO, the city of Paris, the FFN, World Aquatics and the prefecture cancelled the training session scheduled for Friday August 4. They then postponed the women’s event by one day. Then they decided to cancel the competition altogether, which was to take place between Pont Alexandre III and Pont d’Iéna, in the heart of Paris.
A bitter blow. But according to Pierre Rabadan, deputy mayor of Paris in charge of sports, the Games and the Seine, the event could have been saved in a matter of hours. “It came down to a few hours,” he confided on Sunday morning.
Explanation: the readings taken in real time by the mayor’s office (photo above), just before the scheduled start of the race, were in line with the standards set by World Aquatics. Water quality in the Seine was judged to be good and fit for swimming. But the decision to cancel was taken, as required by the regulations, on the basis of an analysis dating back to the previous day.
With one day to go before the men’s and women’s races, water analysis revealed a level of 1,300 UFC/100 ml (Escherichia coli bacteria). To authorize a start, World Aquatics requires a level of less than 1,000.
Comment by the president of the international body, Kuwaiti Husain Al-Musallam, quoted in a press release: “The health of the athletes must always be our first priority.”
Worrying? Not really. Of course, cancelling a test event is never a good sign. Above all, swimming in the Seine, for both open water and triathlon, was one of the commitments made by the OCOG during the bid phase, and one of the promises made by Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris.
But everyone involved in the bidding process points out, with figures to back it up: the rainfall recorded since the end of July is “exceptional” for the season. The prefecture explained: “In Météo France data going back to 1965, we haven’t found a single year where it has rained so much over this period. With more than 120 millimetres, that’s five times the average for the last twenty years.”
It’s hard, therefore, to imagine a similar scenario next year. In their misfortune, the organizers can take comfort in the fact that it was better to have such a rainy week in an Olympic year.
Nevertheless, the threat remains. World Aquatics points out: “We need to continue to work with Paris 2024 and local authorities to ensure that robust contingency plans are in place for next year.”
In the meantime, a second test event is scheduled for the end of next week in the Seine, on a comparable course. The pre-Olympic triathlon and para-triathlon event is scheduled to take place on the Games course from August 17 to 20. The weather forecast looks more clement.