River boats carry out successful Paris Olympics opening ceremony rehearsal

Europe AP - Thomas Padilla
AP - Thomas Padilla

Onlookers in Paris were treated to a procession of 55 boats taking part in a rehearsal along the Seine River on Monday afternoon. Olympic officials are confident that the near four-hour opening ceremony will run like clockwork on 26 July.

A total of 55 boats made the journey from Pont d'Austerlitz, named after a French military victory in 1805, to Pont d'Iéna, a stone's throw from the Eiffel Tower, the nation's most striking and best known landmark.

"Six months ago we had like 10 minutes delay on the timing and today we are very close, almost to the second to our targets," Thierry Reboul, the executive director for ceremonies told journalists from the Associated Press agency.

"So it is very satisfying. We've respected an extremely precise level of timing."

On the day of the event, around 200 Olympic delegations will join the parade on more than 80 boats.

They will make the journey from east to west, along a six-kilometre route which has become a major talking point – for its audacity as a unique open-air event and for its exposure to potential danger.

High security

Monday's rehearsal saw 10 police speedboats shadowing the convoy, as well as speedboats equipped with television cameras. There were armed police officers stationed at various points along the way. The boats crossed 16 bridges, passing by iconic landmarks such as the green-tinged Grand Palais – where fencing and Taekwondo events will be held.

One tourist mistook the scene for something else.
"Maybe they are making a movie," said Driss El Kaoutari, a 42-year-old from Morocco who was on vacation in Paris with his daughter.

What people actually saw were empty vessels bobbing slowly by. But they will be full of life, colour, sound and movement next month.

"You will have many delegation members on the boats with their uniforms and their flags," Reboul said. "Around them there will be many other things, as you can imagine."

Water quality under scrutiny

The water itself has become a sensitive and thorny topic for the organisers and politicians heading into the 26 July - 11 Aug Paris Games.

A €1.39 billion ($1.5 billion) investment has already been made to improve the Seine's water quality, with President Emmanuel Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo both promising to take a dip where marathon swimmers and triathletes are set to compete.

Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra also gave assurances about the river, but warned against expecting results too quickly.

"Regarding the quality of the Seine's water, we are confident. You shouldn't ask us to be ready ahead of time," Oudéa-Castéra said, adding that a new centre for collecting waste will be opened next week.

There will be a final rehearsal, involving the full armada of boats, before the opening ceremony – one which is expected to bring 100 world leaders to the city's embankments, where more than 300,000 people will watch.

(with AP)

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