British canoeist Pennie has novel answer to Zika threat

Reuters News
|
Posted: May 05, 2016 4:35 PM

By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - British slalom canoeist Fiona Pennie is leaving nothing to chance at this year's Rio Olympics where she will fit a mosquito net to her boat between races to minimize the threat of the Zika virus.

Pennie will contest the K1 kayak event at the state-of-the-art Deodoro Whitewater Stadium in the hills above Rio and has already trained on the course several times during the scorching Brazilian summer with no problems.

"We've had emails with instructions on how best to protect ourselves. But really it's not that bad, it's chlorinated water so it's not the kind of water where mosquitoes like to fester!" she said at London's Lee Valley White Water Center on Thursday.

"They've had water readings from Rio and compared them to here in London and it's been totally fine.

"But I've got a mosquito net across my boat so that when I'm not in it between sessions I know they'll not be any mosquitoes in my boat when I get back."

Preparations for the Games have been overshadowed by an outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus that has been linked to thousands of suspected cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect, in Brazil.

Some athletes have considered whether or not to attend, but Britain's slalom canoeists, despite spending most of their time close to water, are no more at risk, according to John Anderson, performance director for Britain's slalom and sprint teams.

"It's all about the absolute basics of personal hygiene. No windows open, full spray repellent and not putting yourself near water at night because that's when mosquitoes bite," he said.

"In the slalom there is no stagnant water at all, it's crystal clear and chlorinated. But the sprint course is a natural lake in the middle of Rio so when the sun goes down, if you're there, there will be mosquitoes about.

"So just don't put yourself in those situations."

Britain's team includes C1 world champion David Florence, who will also team up with Richard Hounslow in the C2 event, hoping to go one better than the silver they took in London behind fellow British duo Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott.

Joseph Clarke will be making his Olympic debut in K1.

Anderson is confident the well-funded team's regular visits to the Deodoro facility will make it feel like a home from home as they bid to meet a three-medal target.

"We have been able to maximize the three training camps in Rio," he said. "The last two camps our rivals weren't there because they were still selecting their teams.

"I sat down two years ago with a group of performance directors and one of the things we spoke about was to be the most local non-local team in Rio. To go back to Rio, it's almost like coming home."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)