2004 test lets in water

Greece’s annual summer winds turned a pre-Olympic rowing competition into a challenge to stay afloat yesterday as waves swamped boats and forced one team to swim across the finish line. The weather troubles – fierce northerlies known locally as the meltemia – were a worrisome start to a series of important test events held to assess any venue revisions needed before next year’s Olympics. The start of the World Junior Rowing Championships was moved two hours earlier to 6.30 a.m. to try to avoid the winds that normally intensify during the day. The eight-man US team abandoned their craft about 400 meters from the finish line of the 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) course, fearing they could sink, with water filling the hull from waves. The team swam across the line, towing the boat to remain in the competition. «It was like you were rowing in the ocean,» said team member Stephen Newark. In the next race, the leading British eight abandoned their sinking craft and did not finish. The team will have a second chance to remain in the four-day competition in heats planned for tomorrow. Other teams, including Japan, managed to row across the finish line in boats barely afloat. Organizers were able to hold all the races, but it was unclear how they would deal with the winds in the remaining days. Forecasts predict gale-force winds of up to 64 kilometers per hour (40 mph) in parts of the Aegean Sea, which is near the coastal rowing center at Schinias, a popular windsurfing site about 30 kilometers (18 miles) northeast of Athens. Rowing’s international federation, FISA, said conditions were «very bad,» but the competition met safety standards. «We are an outdoor sport and we must be ready to race in all conditions,» FISA Executive Director Matt Smith said. «We did go to the limit (at Schinias) and it’s the most swampings we had as far as I know, in my limited 20 years in international rowing competition.» Smith said FISA knew strong winds prevail in Greece every August, but the eight-day Olympic competition in August 2004 will offer more time to find acceptable conditions. The rowing competition manager, Vassilis Lykomitros, tried to put a positive face on the situation. «For us, it was a great test because it showed us the worst-case scenario,» he said. The venue will also host the canoe-kayak flatwater racing test event on August 15-17.