American swims in Seine River in Paris for Olympics despite pollution concerns

PARIS (AP) — A 75-year-old American swimmer took a dip in the Seine River Thursday, braving the murky waters in central Paris to celebrate the Fourth of July and support the French government’s efforts to clean up the river for the Olympics.

His timing was good: a few hours later, regional authorities released data showing that the water quality in the river had improved over the past week, raising hopes that Olympic swimming competitions could take place after all.

Joel Stratte McClure, who last swam in the Seine in 1976 for a magazine cover photo shoot and turns 76 this month, said he was impressed with the progress being made clean the riverbut there were still concerns about its safety.

“I may regret swimming,” McClure said before entering the water. “But if I come back alive, it will be proof that the French have done a good job cleaning up the river.”

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo had initially planned to swimming in the Seine last month to prove it was clean, sparking an online campaign from her many critics who threatened to defecate in the river on the day of her swim.

But she postponed the swim after President Emmanuel Macron announced snap parliamentary elections that have plunged France into political tension and overshadowed the pre-Olympics excitement for many. Heavy rains in recent months have also led to faster-than-normal currents for this time of year, and Hidalgo says she will swim the river in mid-July instead.

“I think the president called new elections so he wouldn’t have to swim in the Seine,” McClure joked.

After a short dip, he declared the water “fantastic” and expressed hope that others would follow his example and benefit from the cleaner river.

Marathon swimming and triathlon are scheduled to take place in the river at the Alexandre III Bridge during the Olympic Games, which run from July 26 to August 11, and the Paralympic Games, which run from August 28 to September 8.

Unsafe levels of E. coli were found in the river last week for the third week in a row. But on Thursday, regional authorities published new results showing an improvement.

Test results from the regulatory body Eau de Paris show that on one day, from June 26 to July 2, contamination levels were below the safe limit of 900 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters set by the World Triathlon Federation for competitions.

French officials remain optimistic, stressing that there is no Plan B for the Olympic open water swimming events.


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