High winds and athlete illness jinx the beginning of test events

Venue tests for the 2004 Olympics had a jinxed start yesterday when Germany’s junior rowing team withdrew due to illness and organizers had to change the starting time of races because of high winds on the eve of the trials. Though the setbacks were the type of challenges test events are meant to uncover, they added up to an unfortunate start for organizers hoping to show during a month of venue testing in August that much-criticized preparations are back on track. This month will also see the testing of venues for beach volleyball, cycling, sailing, archery, canoeing and show jumping, with more than 1,600 athletes from 50 countries taking part. More events had been scheduled for August but because of construction delays, testing of venues for softball, wrestling and several other sports were pushed back. Rowing officials said about 60 members of the German team were confined to their hotel with a stomach bug. The team was to have taken part in the world junior rowing championships today at the Olympics Schinias rowing venue about 40 km (25 miles) from Athens. «The German team decided to withdraw from the event after a number of their athletes became ill, suffering from gastroenteritis,» FISA, the international rowing federation, said in a statement. It added that the team pulled out because it could not take part in the preliminaries and also due to «the potentially contagious nature of the illness.» Games officials told Reuters the rowers, aged 15 to 17, fell ill shortly after their arrival in Greece. «They arrived on Friday. The signs appeared on Saturday. It is most likely that they brought the illness with them. It has been identified only in the German team and no other athlete taking part in the competition has become ill.» The world junior rowing championships kick off the series of events today but the scheduled 8.30 a.m. start time for races was brought forward to 6.30 a.m. after strong winds disrupted practice on Monday and yesterday. «Winds usually pick up later in the morning at this time of year, so the early start will be better for the athletes, who are used to waking up early,» an Athens Games rowing official told Reuters. Planting trees The strong northern winds, locally known as meltemia, traditionally pick up in August, cooling the country after two months of scorching temperatures that sometimes soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). The Schinias rowing venue has been mired in controversy since the site was selected. Athens organizers have already had to overcome protests about harm to the area’s wetlands and warnings that the site contained archaeological treasures. After the rowing practice disruption, some competitors suggested organizers should plant trees along the course to minimize the wind’s effects. But rowing competition manager Vassilis Likomitros told Reuters the idea was discussed two years ago and rejected. «The lanes run parallel to the winds and this means that all rowers have an advantage or a disadvantage and the race will be fair,» he said. «If we placed trees, then only the first two or three rows would be protected, because the wind would then whirl around the trees and affect all other rowers.» A total of nearly 600 rowers from 45 nations will take part in the four-day championships. The only test event held until now was a highly acclaimed sailing regatta last year.