For 18-year-old Florence Allan, the dream of competing at the Olympics is two weeks away from becoming a reality.
Ms. Allan will travel to Rio de Janeiro on July 24 for the Summer Olympic Games, where she will represent Cayman in Laser Radial sailing.
This is not her first trip to the Brazilian capital. Along with her coach Raph Harvey, Ms. Allan went to Brazil in June for two weeks of training in Rio’s Guanabara Bay.
While there, she said she tried to put media reports about the Zika virus, crime and water hazards that surround the Olympic host city out of her mind and concentrate on her training.
“Well before we went to the training trip, reading all of that can be kind of scary because you think ‘I’ve worked this hard and it’s the pinnacle of my athletic career and I’m going to get sick from the water or get Zika,’” she said.
“There’s been a lot of stories … about sailors getting held up at gunpoint with the yacht club we were sailing with recently, and there was supposed to have been two shootings on the road,” Ms. Allan said. “It was scary [but], honestly, when I was there I do think that the media has taken it and ran with it a little.
“You just have to be more careful than you usually would be, and with the violence, I think it’s there, it’s present. You just have to [acknowledge] it. I never felt unsafe.”
While fear of Zika has led to some athletes pulling out of the Rio Olympics, Ms. Allan is not convinced it will be a major issue. The Olympics are Aug. 5-21, during Brazil’s winter.
“I wouldn’t have thought Zika was a problem [in that season],” she said, adding that she didn’t notice many mosquitoes when she was there She had equipped herself with everything she thought she would need to protect against mosquitoes, and she was not bitten once. “I would say that it’s been blown out of proportion,” Ms. Allan said.
Brazil is suffering from an outbreak of Zika virus, but the Rio 2016 local organizing committee has stressed that because the summer games are during Brazil’s dry season, the mosquito population will be smaller.
Zika aside, the polluted water in Guanabara Bay has been a contentious issue for sailors preparing to take part in the Olympics. It has been reported that hundreds of tons of unprocessed waste flow into Guanabara Bay every year.
Despite the amount of garbage in the water, which Ms. Allen said she found off-putting, being able to sail there “wasn’t as bad as I thought,” she said, noting that sailors would have to be cautious of their daggerboards in the water.
“Apart from that, I didn’t think it was a big deal because I took the extra precaution of washing my stuff with antibacterial soap,” said Ms. Allan. The Associated Press last year reported on two investigations based on independent water-quality testing with water from the bay. Both basically concluded that the Olympic waterways teem with viruses and bacteria, even far from land.
During their training sessions, Ms. Allan and coach Harvey got to sail in all of the venues she is scheduled to compete in during the Olympics.
“Inside the [Guanabara] Bay,” said Allan, “it’s quite similar to North Sound, which is good for the waves, but the only difference is the current. They have a lot of current or tidal range and we don’t really have that here and that’s going to take a lot of adjusting to. The wind was pretty similar as well. It’s pretty constant here as well.”
Ms. Allan said the waves are “massive” sailing outside Guanabara Bay.
“I only train in the North Sound and I’ve only been outside the reef once, so that was a big adjustment to make … In efforts to simulate the waves outside the bay in Rio,
Ms. Allan hopes to do some training outside Cayman’s reef in the coming weeks.
Overall, she said, “The trip was good; we got to sail against literally the world’s best and champions and past Olympic medalists.
“Obviously, it got challenging, it was quite tough to keep up with the people that were there, especially since I literally just finished my exams and hadn’t been training as heavily as I would’ve done,” she said. “It was kind of like getting back into the groove and trying to keep up with the very fast athletes.”
The trip was hard, she said, but definitely worthwhile.