The world's best swimmers are in safe hands at the Rio Olympics, where they will even compete under the eye of lifeguards who are on red alert should they need to pluck a superstar from the waters.

With whistles and flotation devices at the ready, a fleet of 75 lifeguards have already been seen providing round the clock surveillance at the training sessions. As the New York Times noted, this might be a sensible precaution for water polo, synchronised swimming and diving where accidents might happen. But swimming?

"Yes, it's necessary," lifeguard supervisor Danielle Martelote at the Aquatics Stadium. She said cramps, heart attacks and head-first crashes into the wall were the extreme if remote dangers faced by Olympians.

FINA, swimming's international body, requires its major world events to comply with local rules. A Rio de Janeiro state law requires the presence of lifeguards at swimming pools larger than seven by seven metres, thus the Olympic coverage.

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The guards, who will get about $470 for three weeks of Olympic duty, even get to hover near the great Michael Phelps. The only things that might weigh Phelps down are the 18 gold medals he has won, but he is a man most unlikely to strike trouble in the water.

"We joked to each other, 'We're here to save him!'" Martelote said. "But we hope and expect that all the athletes will be fine."

Lifeguard Anderson Fertes said: "I don't think they'll need us, but we'll be on the lookout just in case. It's a one-in-a-million type of event, but we're prepared. I'm dreaming of that possibility."