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Olympic sailing champions race in big Rio 'toilet'

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Twenty-three Olympic medalists start trials on Saturday for the 2016 Rio Games in a bay littered with dead animals, television sets, sofas, shoes and not much clean water.

More than 320 competitors from 34 countries will take part in nine days of racing in a Guanabara Bay which has become “a huge toilet,” according to Mario Moscatelli, a biologist who has been fighting for a cleanup since 1997.

The Australian team complained to the Olympic organizing committee before the opening trials this week. Germany's sailing team proclaimed “welcome to the dump that is Rio” in an editorial on its website in March.

The trials involve men and women in 10 Olympic classes including 49er, Laser, 470, Fin, and windsurfing.

All are wary of falling into the water. And new warnings about the dangers started as soon as training started on Monday.

Mathew Belcher, Australia's London Olympic champion in the 470 class, had to tear plastic bags off his craft after his training on Tuesday.

Dead Dog

“We found a lot of plastic bottles and bags. Yesterday we saw a dead dog in the water,” Belcher told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.

“If the Olympics were tomorrow, we would really have a problem,” he added.

An AFP photographer found a dead cat in the water during a tour of the bay on Thursday.

There are also television sets, sofas, shoes and other unwholesome items swept into the bay in the deluge of sewage that comes from Rio de Janeiro, which is struggling to be ready for the first Olympics in South America.

The water is “different,” said Philipp Buhl, a Laser competitor for Germany.

“Yesterday in my first go on the water, I saw a wooden chair. It's not ideal,” he told AFP.

The German team put up worrying pictures of Guanabara Bay on its website in March.

“The question remains how exactly the organizers of the 2016 Games will solve this problem. It isn't just the garbage that is already in the water: With every rainfall tons and tons of new sewage are washed into the sea and without treatment plants the situation will not get any better,” said the German commentary.

Rio Promises

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Sailing boats are seen for Aquence Rio, the International Sailing Regatta 2014, the first test for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, at Marina da Gloria in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Friday, August 1. (AFP)

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