The world's top female triathletes rushed forward into the Seine on Thursday as the famous river's improved water quality allowed a race to take place in a key test event ahead of next year's Paris Olympics.
It comes after a previous test had to be canceled this month because of poor water quality.
Paris Olympic organizers, the city’s authorities and World Triathlon praised the victory of British competitor Beth Potter in the women’s race.
“She thus becomes the first athlete to win a sporting competition after swimming in the Seine since 2012,” they said in a joint statement.
The triathlon event takes place through Sunday in the heart of the French capital, with the swimming portion of the race starting from the bottom of the spectacular 19th century Alexandre III bridge and its golden statues. The bike and run laps go through some of the most prestigious neighborhoods of the capital city, including down the Champs-Elysees. Fans can attend the event for free.
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“What a special place to be in,” said American triathlete Katie Zaferes, who finished in 21st place and hasn't yet qualified for Paris Olympics — but still hopes to do so. “It was a good way to hopefully be here next year and get a preview of the course.”
French triathlete Cassandre Beaugrand, who placed second, said “it’s a magnificent event, everyone is so happy to compete here.”
Beaugrand didn't show concerns about the water quality of the Seine.
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“We are used to swim in much worse waters,” she said.
The site will host some swimming events for both the Olympics and Paralympics.
“I was on the podium with the ladies this morning and they told me it’s probably the best triathlon they ever competed in,” Paris organizing committee president Tony Estanguet said. “For us, it’s the best demonstration that the work done so far is very positive and we are on track to deliver a fantastic triathlon next year.”
At the beginning of the month, the open water swimming World Cup event was canceled because heavy rain had caused overflows of untreated waste in the Seine, leaving water quality below safety standards.
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Organizers stressed water-management efforts involved a $1.5 million investment by the state and local authorities, allowing “significant progress” in recent years. Polluted water discharges into the Seine have been cut significantly, they said.
Additional infrastructure is still in the works, including a giant underground reservoir in Paris that will stock excess water during storms so it doesn’t spill untreated into the river and can be treated later.