(ATR) Often glorious, often gloriously inefficient, Rio de Janeiro showed the world its version of the Olympics.
While it followed the general idea of what an Olympic host should provide, Rio took some departures from the script. Sometimes to save money, sometimes to be -- well, Brazilian -- the Games will be remembered for sport and style.
The setting of this sprawling city on the Atlantic Ocean, an Olympic first, is half of the landscape. There are the ancient rock formations such as Sugar Loaf that rim the city and the Olympic sites. There’s not another place in the world that looks remotely like Rio – that is also able to host the Olympics.
The accomplishments of Rio medal-winners such as Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Simone Biles are unlikely to be surpassed in the record books for generations. Brazilian Olympians also made the country proud with a quantum leap in the medals table. Moments like the men’s volleyball win over Italy, Thiago Braz da Silva setting the pole vault record, or perhaps sweetest of all -- the gold medal in football over Germany is a constellation likely not to appear again in the firmament.
This glorious view of the Games comes despite the sometimes inelegant delivery in the past seven years. And then there are the Olympics themselves, with a tragi-comic series of things going wrong, right through closing ceremony. Yet Rio 2016 still made it happen.
Our overall grade for the Games is a B. Here are the details:
Sport – A
The Games were jam-packed with thrilling performances that put Rio 2016’s organizational problems in the shade. Bolt’s triple-triple and Michael Phelps’ five gold medals were astounding. Local hero Thiago Braz da Silva may have been a lesser-known talent, but he did his share by winning pole vault gold in a big upset. The two new sports -- golf and rugby – also put on a show.
The media found the right story lines, jaw-dropping and heart-wrenching in equal measure. Great Britain took home a record medal haul of 67, breaking the record it set in London four years ago.
The asterisk over Russians both present and absent made a difference, but did not have a huge impact on the competition.
Boxing was hit by a judging scandal that proved an embarrassing episode for AIBA and president C.K. Wu.
Special mention for the refugee athletes team, who did themselves proud, was one of the IOC’s better moments in Rio.
Acts of fair play helped balance some nasty expressions of poor sportsmanship.
Venues – B
The venues functioned well although outdoor venues – rowing at the Lagoa, beach volleyball and triathlon on Copacabana - were remarkable as they made the most of Rio’s natural highlights.
Insufficient signage and other decoration contributed to the lack of a wow factor in the clusters.
With two main Olympic hubs at Barra and Deodoro, and venues spreading from Copacabana to Ipanema and the Maracana, venues were too far apart -- the opposite of the IOC’s beloved "compact Games". (Spoiler alert – Tokyo 2020 will be even more difficult than Rio with significant travel needed to reach venues near and far.)
The green water in the diving well could be the unforgettable venue gaffe of the Rio Games.
Food and drink amenities inside the arenas was either very limited or at times sold out entirely.
Hard to see how some of the Olympic Park and Deodoro venues will have a sustainable legacy in the coming years. Plans call for the Olympic Park to become an elite training center for South America, but little is known about executing those plans.
Atmosphere – B
A great carnival was promised, but the affair started late. Empty seats throughout the Games were a disappointment. Late start times for the highest profile swimming and track and field events may have discouraged crowds.
Economic blues may have also depleted the Olympic spirit of Brazilians, electing to watch via the two national TV rights holders, instead of the hassle and expense of going to the events.
There was little for spectators to do around the Barra and Deodoro clusters. Deodoro, home to a half dozen venues, all of which were disconnected from each other, was the worst.
Once outside Copacabana and Barra, you may not have known the Olympics were going at all because the host city had so little branding and marketing activation.
"Broken" is how one expert describes the look of the Games for Rio. Signage and venue dressings fell by the wayside with budget cuts. It was a slip in IOC standards, and could be a taste of what’s to come with Agenda 2020.
Where were the big time sponsors such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Visa to help make Rio look like a party? Coke made its splash at the live site in the center of Rio, but otherwise the worldwide Olympic sponsors seemed to have a muted presence in Rio.
The hospitality houses put some spark into Rio. Despite the challenges of working here, NOCs big and small took the plunge in Rio with some spectacular results. Ipanema was the setting for USA House. Club France attracted thousands every day and again at night with midnight soirees. Casa Italia offered its classic hospitality, Hungary House and Japan House opened their doors to Cariocas. The Lagoa area was a popular area for clubs, among them Canada, Switzerland and the Olympians Reunion Center.
When Brazil headed into crucial showdowns in volleyball or football, the arenas as well as the streets of Rio rocked with atmosphere, that sometimes included booing.
Watching the Brazil-Italy volleyball final on TV from the hotel, window open, delivered a moment to remember. Some 16 floors below, across Copacabana, the roar of crowds watching TVs from the streets outside bars and restaurants was as loud as it could have been in Maracazinho, where the match was underway. But there was no stadium, just the rooftops of Copacabana with cheers of thousands of unseen fans rising magically with each point toward the gold medal.
Security – B
It’s hard to quibble with the security forces at an Olympics free of mayhem and tragedy. We were surprised not to hear more instances of crime against visitors.
But there were a few security scares and plenty of incidents in Rio, notably three controlled explosions of suspected bombs, a stray bullet fired from a favela at the equestrian venue and a media bus attack. "Gunfire" said a US reporter who was on the bus. "Rocks" said Rio 2016.
The presence of 85,000 troops in the city probably made a difference, but it also made Rio security the most militarized ever seen for the Games.
The bad rap handed to Rio security by the fabricated story of Ryan Lochte and his USA swim team mates was gratuitous and unfair.
We hear that retaliation by Rio police over the Lochte debacle may have been behind police seizing passports from a group of Australian swimmers who tried to sneak into a basketball match using altered accreditations.
Busting IOC member Patrick Hickey for ticket touting and related charges is a shocker for the IOC. It’s the first known instance of police raiding the IOC hotel to arrest a member. And the whole affair could give the IOC a case of heartburn that lasts for a long time.
Logistics – C
Traffic in Rio can be nightmarish and though the Olympic lanes did help, it was just too far between Copacabana and the Olympic Park in Barra. Bus journeys rarely took less than an hour but the new metro Line 4 worked well.
Declarations of four banking holidays helped lower background traffic levels, but on other days traffic jams could be hopeless.
For locals, improvements in public transportation, the BRT and metro services, were welcomed and may come to be regarded as a big legacy of the Games.
Spectator lines to get into venues, and for journalists into the main press center, were ridiculously frustrating the first few days but once the Games got rolling the issues were mostly solved.
Airport operations were largely smooth, even when pushed to the max with 85,000 departing passengers the day after the Games.
Power outages and other such glitches were more frequent than in past Games. Hackers broke into the computer network of the host broadcast operation.
Media – C
Rio’s budget cuts reared their ugly head here. The Main Press Center seemed barely held together, and many journalists saw decreased level of services than normally provided.
For the media, a lot of patience was needed.
Coffee and water were lacking, and food lines were out the door the first week for the single restaurant feeding the media army. Rio 2016 didn't learn the lessons from London 2012's food mall and the importance of keeping hacks fed and watered in comfortable surroundings. There wasn’t even a proper bar at the MPC.
Lack of media catering at all venues was an issue, most obvious at the Olympic Stadium where athletics was held.
Long lines were the rule at the single ATM serving the press center. Heavily branded as a Visa cash point, the worldwide Olympic sponsor did not win favor with its single machine. A Bradesco bank office in the MPC was adept only at helplessness.
Internet was spotty at times, and thousands of dollars of gear disappeared from offices. There were countless complaints, but part of it was also the media struggling to adjust to working in a developing country and the challenges that come with that.
There were helpful and cheerful venue staff and volunteers at media centers, tribunes and fields of play, although the language barrier was sometimes challenging.
WiFi on air-conditioned buses and the media transport planning app were great innovations.
On one occasion, an ATR reporter even talked the driver into letting him off at a traffic light nearer to his accommodations than the final destination, which saved a 20-minute walk. This was impossible in Sochi.
Written and compiled by the Around the Rings Rio Team.
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