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  • Battling Weeds for a Clean Rowing Venue in Beijing


    Denis Oswald said the weeds at Shunyi rowing venue almost caused races to be postponed. (ATR)
    (ATR) Despite serious concerns over weeds threatening the Olympic rowing competition, the president of the International Rowing Federation tells Around the Rings the regatta is a success.

    “We had a lot of problems with the weeds on many stretches of water. Some days we nearly had to postpone races,” Denis Oswald said Sunday at the conclusion of competition at the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park.

    “We had a few protests. But if you miss qualification for the final sometimes it may be easy to say it’s because of the weeds,” commented the IOC member from Switzerland.

    “We had to put scuba divers at the start to make sure the boats were clean.” There were no such issues at Athens 2004, he confirmed.

    Oswald said the weeds shooting up from the bed of the course came too close to the surface in some areas and threatened to interfere with the rowing strokes of competitors.

    The problem arose because the weeds were cut too soon before the Olympics, allowing them to grow back. With cables running along and across the 2 km course, there was no opportunity to utilize a machine to chop the weeds down.

    “One night, 200 soldiers were pulling up the weeds,” stated Oswald, adding that FISA and BOCOG had to deploy others to help with the task on one of the first days of competition.

    Venue staff and event organizers spent another morning collecting weeds from the surface; fortunately, racing was scheduled for the afternoon.

    “That was the biggest challenge. Apart from that, it was a very good regatta. The venue is fantastic. The weather conditions were very good,” Oswald remarked, noting the one black mark: a thunderstorm that forced the regatta to be rescheduled on Friday, a rest day.

    Some uncollected weeds floating on the surface of the flatwater area did upset some rowers.

    Theo Fledderus, the secretary general of the Dutch national Olympic committee, highlighted the weed problem as a concern through the week of competition, saying it may have hindered the chances of his men’s four qualifying for the final; they were a big medal prospect.

    “When you say ‘what can be the problem’, it is the only thing I can imagine,” he told ATR.

    Nevertheless, Fledderus was all smiles and “a little flabbergasted” after the women’s eight grabbed silver in a closely fought contest. The team failed to medal four years ago in Athens and Fledderus was hoping for bronze at most.

    “It is a beautiful day for Holland,” he extolled after the women relegated Romania to bronze by the finest of margins. “They had a difficult qualification, [but] the team [was] getting better and better.”

    There was plenty of Dutch orange support in the seven spectator stands on the other side of the water from the medal podiums. British rowing fans were also in good voice after Team GB won several medals on the water Sunday. However, the stands were only two-thirds full.

    Fledderus paid tribute to BOCOG for delivering “fantastic” rowing facilities, saying the good weather aided rowers
    The Shunyi venue. (ATR)
    and produced quick times and the atmosphere added to the spectacle.

    Overall, he was delighted with the organization of the Beijing Olympics and the accommodation of Dutch athletes. A minor complaint was communication problems with organizers and volunteers due to the language barrier, with too few people speaking sufficient English.

    The British Olympic Association chair, Colin Moynihan, was another wearing an ear-to-ear grin. And not just because Great Britain was sitting in third place in the medal table.

    Watching Team GB’s men’s eight clinch silver in the final race of the rowing regatta triggered some special memories for Moynihan, who was a cox in the British boat that won silver in the men’s eight at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

    “They rowed very well. The Canadians were outstanding; they went out very, very strong, sustained their lead and resisted the pressure in the last 500m. Great performance by them and by the British eight,” he told ATR.

    “Every international rowing course is different:
    Theo Fledderus, the secretary general of the Dutch national Olympic committee, said the weeds were the biggest problem of the Olympic rowing regatta. (ATR)
    the setting, the wind conditions, the water. This is a fantastic course,” he said.

    Describing conditions Sunday as “absolutely magnificent” with a very slight tailwind making for fast times, he said: “If we have this sort of weather for London 2012, I will be very pleased.”

    Kieran Kerr, a rowing judge at his first Olympics, had only praise for BOCOG and the volunteers. “I found it very good. Everything we needed was here and the organization was absolutely top class,” said Kerr, who has officiated at five world championships.

    Rowing enthusiasts also raved about the racing and the venue. “There was Waltzing Matilda, there was ‘Ozzie, ozzie, ozzie,’ the atmosphere was amazing,” commented Kat Fahey from Sydney, Australia.

    The only downside was the women’s toilets, which were not well maintained during the course of Sunday, she indicated.

    The Shunyi park, where canoe and kayak flatwater racing kicked off Monday, covers an area of 162 hectares. There are 1,200 permanent seats and 13,800 temporary seats and space for a further 10,000 people.

    As well as the 2 km competition course, the facility includes a 1.7 km warm-up course. Canoe and kayak slalom racing were held at a 280 m course in the southwestern corner of the park last week.

    Oswald was happy with the venue, which lies 36km from the Olympic Village. He said it’s much bigger and with more space than the Schinias rowing complex used for the Athens Games.

    So can London 2012 organizers deliver to the same standards? Oswald certainly thinks so, but said London “should not try to compete or compare” with the Beijing facility. “Every venue can bring its own flavor to the games. I’m sure the British can also do something special.”

    With Shunyi park offering the only rowing and canoe facility in the Beijing area, Oswald has no doubt it will have a sustainable legacy beyond the Games. “They will make sure it’s used and has a real legacy and we will work with them if necessary.”

    Written by Mark Bisson in Beijing

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