Olympic Triathlon Could Become A Duathlon Due To The Seine’s Water Quality

The Paris Games organizers may axe the swimming leg of the triathlon and turn the event into a duathlon if pollution or weather conditions continue to affect the Seine’s water quality.

Tony Estanguet, president of the Paris 2024 organizing committee, warned that heavy rain could lead to dangerous levels of pollution in the Seine. The famous river is slated to host the Olympic and Paralympic open water and triathlon events at this summer’s Games.

Organizers for the Paris Games have spent over a billion euros (approximately 1.5 billion USD) on the river clean up effort.

This is one of the first times that organizers have spoken publicly about the contingency plans other than posponing if the river is not safe for athletes on the day of competition.

Estanguet, a three-time Olympic canoeing champion, did repeat the postponment plan, reiterating that “the first part of the contingency is to postpone the dates. “That’s why we have programmed the triathlon at the beginning of the Games,” he explained.

The individual triathlon races are scheduled for July 30 and 31 with the mixed relay on August 5. He also said the triathlon international federation’s rules allow for the event to be reduced to only cycling and running, if necessary.

Estanguet stated there are no alternative locations if the Seine is not safe for the athletes.

“We change the date and postpone from one day to three days until it’s ok,” he said. “And there is a final decision where we could not swim — it’s part of the rules of the international federation. It’s what we want to avoid, of course. But there’s a risk. There’s always a risk.”

While triathlon events are scheduled earlier in the Games’ schedule, there is less flexibility for the open water swimming events, slated for August 8 and 9.

It is not news that rain could cause a major disruption to organizers’ plans. In April 2023, deputy mayor Pierre Raabadan told The New York Times “we know the quality of the water—even with all the work we’ve done—probably won’t be excellent” if it rains the entire week before the Games.

Rain could cause this massive undertaking several problems. The Seine flooded just last month and rainwater may add pollution to the river.

But more importantly, Paris’ sewer system carries both rainwater and wastewater. When storms overload the system everything releases into the Seine. In an effort to avoid that happening before the Games, organizers had an underground storage tank and connected tunnel built that hold up to 13.2 million gallons of water. But the more it rains, the faster the tank will fill and the greater the likelihood the sewer system becomes overwhelmed.

This past summer, swimming test events were cancelled due to poor water quality. Officials later said a faulty sewer valve upstream was responsible. Surfrider Foundation Europe, a French charity, reported this month that there were still “alarming” levels of E.cole and enterococci in the Seine.

When asked specifically about the threat of the E. coli bacteria, Estanguet replied, “we are working hard on it. You know it’s one of the bigger challenges.”

Surfrider Foundation Europe took 14 samples over a six-month period from Pont de l’Alma and Pont Alexandre III, where athletes are expected to swim. They deemed only one sample as satisfactory water quality with regards to the two types of bacteria.

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Ranger Coach
1 month ago

After I read this, there are plenty of lakes within 50 miles of Paris. One of them is the Nautical Center of Jablines. Another is where the rowing is taking place (I could see why this would not be an option). Lac d’Enghien is not too far north of the city. Lac Montalbot is not too far from Orly. Even the Seine upstream of Paris might be better.

It is not like triathlon and open water swimming get a lot of viewers during the four years between Olympics. For the organizers of these Games to not have a backup plan is horrendous.

1 month ago

They could just hold it in Parc la Villette on the Canal d’Ourcq. Sure, it’s not as scenic, but it’s certainly cleaner, within Paris proper, and directly served by the Metro!

1 month ago

I wonder, can’t the Olympic committee find a lake somewhere within 50 miles of Paris? Or closer?

1 month ago

LA ’28 is doing the same thing with rowing. Changing the length of the race from 2000 meters to 1500 meters so they can have it in Long Beach (versus Lake Perris about an hour away). Makes it a significantly different race. Why is it always the athletes that suffer?

Reply to  Tom212
1 month ago

It’s more like eliminating the breaststroke leg in the 400IM… and telling the competitors in the ready room they’re only swimming 300m.

"we've got a boilover!"
Reply to  FST
1 month ago

Hubert Kos would rejoice!

1 month ago

How long would it have take the French Olympic committee to build a man-made lake outside of Paris? It probably would’ve cost the same (or less) than the river cleanup

Ranger Coach
Reply to  thezwimmer
1 month ago

There are plenty of lakes that already exist that could be used.

1 month ago

They honestly thought they could clean up a river of shit?

1 month ago

The same organizers built a permanent 3 story tower on a fragile reef in French Polynesia for the surf events despite universal backlash.

1 month ago

Why not conduct the swimming in the Olympic pool? The water is pristine and every athlete can be can be timed accurately for their 1.5 K swim.
Then start the bike leg at the Olympic pool or return the athletes to the original bike course and stagger the start according to the swim finish. The race organizers need to remember that this is a TRIATHLON. That means SWIM – BIKE – RUN.

Reply to  Tigerswim22
1 month ago

So the transition area will be by the pool? Outside the complex? Would they swim with lane lines? So only ten competitors? Or without? Are there rules in terms of turns in this scenario? What about the lap back are you swimming over the people that come at you or do they all swim a circle around the entire pool?

Last edited 1 month ago by FST
"we've got a boilover!"
Reply to  FST
1 month ago

Do it in waves:
Wave 1 Top 20 competitors, 2 per lane
Wave 2 from there pending total numbers

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Sophie Kaufman

Sophie grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, which means yes, she does root for the Bruins, but try not to hold that against her. At 9, she joined her local club team because her best friend convinced her it would be fun. Shoulder surgery ended her competitive swimming days long ago, …

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