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Rio Olympics 2016: Time to celebrate the heroes!

Having endured some terrible times in the lead up, Rio put up a colorful and a glitzy Opening Ceremony to put the focus back on the Games.

Opening Ceremony
Fireworks going off at the spectacular Opening Ceremony of the Rio Olympics

It all started with a massive corruption scandal, then came the recession, President’s suspension, Zika and the stories of unhygienic, filthy waters. The problems didn’t stop there – construction issues and an underprepared Games village piled on the miseries. To say Brazil’s run up to the Olympics has been a disastrous one, will be an understatement. However, with a dazzling opening ceremony on Friday, Rio seems to have successfully shifted the global attention to the main event.

Former marathon runner Vanderlei de Lima, a bronze medalist in Athens 2004, who was denied a gold after his run was disrupted by a spectator, lit the Olympic cauldron, as the world’s biggest sporting extravaganza that comes to South America for the first time in its 120-year history officially opened, indicating that it’s time for the athletes to take the center stage

One could feel the energy and excitement as these global icons made their way into the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, carrying the expectations of billions on their shoulders. Representing a country on a global platform is a dream that only a few get to realize and it’s time now to celebrate these chosen few, and salute their spirit, dedication, and heroism.

Troubled Buildup

For the next 17 days, all eyes around the world will be glued on the Games as top athletes compete for their national pride and honour. But, it may be difficult for the hosts to focus as the spotlight will be on the suspended president, Dilma Rousseff, who faces an impeachment trial for allegedly exploiting  national accounts during her bid for reelection in 2014.

If Rousseff is ousted for good, then Vice President Michel Temer, who has assumed the role of interim President and was subjected to jeers while he declared the Games open on Friday, will take over the reins of a country whose economy is in dire straits. Brazil is in deep recession and is witnessing nationwide protests. Rousseff’s ouster would also mean an end to a 13-year rule of the Workers’ Party.

Her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was instrumental in bringing the Games to Rio, is himself accused in one of the biggest corruption scandals in the country. Operation Car Wash is an investigation into allegations that Brazil’s top construction firms were awarded contracts by corrupt practices. The probe, which started at state-run oil company, Petrobras, has now spread to other state companies. Several politicians have been accused of receiving kickbacks and Lula is reportedly standing trial in a case related to the scandal.

Zika Concerns

The economic and political crises have been a serious blow to the nation, and in such atrocious times, it’s a pity that the country has been gripped by a serious health concern – the Zika outbreak. Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that has been linked to microcephaly and neurological disorders, an abnormal condition in which a baby is born with small head.  As the virus spread across Brazil, tourists, particularly young couples, avoided visiting the country.

Although it is said that the arrival of winter has reduced the threat of Zika, the virus has surely dissuaded a few of athletes from heading to the Games – some top names include golfers Rory McIlroy and Jason Day and tennis stars Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych, Dominic Thiem and Simona Halep.

Threats

Rio’s woes just fail to end. The city’s inability to clean its waterways – a pre-Olympic promise –  has now become a cause of concern for tourists and athletes, particularly the marathon swimmers, triathletes, rowers, sailors, and windsurfers.

According to an Associated Press report, the contaminated water is said to have human sewage containing toxic bacteria and viruses that can lead to stomach and respiratory illnesses. Experts have advised athletes not to open their mouth under water.

While the waters give athletes the jitter, the officials will be sweating over an even bigger threat – a terrorist strike. Europe has faced some barbaric acts of terror in the recent past, and a similar threat looms over the Games. ISIS is said to have called for “lone wolves” to head to Rio and cause mayhem during the Games.

But the Brazilian government and army seem well prepared to deal with any such unfortunate incident. A country that has barely been subjected to terror attacks, Brazil is not taking any chances as it has arrested several ISIS sympathizers leading up to the Games.

Opening Ceremony
The Olympic flame is lit

Other disasters

Brazil’s incompetence in finishing the constructions on time led to a last minute rush. The Olympic Village, too, was criticized for not being in the best condition. The Australian contingent refused to stay in the village after they complained of “open wires, leaking pipes and blocked toilets.”

When they finally entered the village after three days of its opening, they were yet again at the receiving end. A small fire forced them to be evacuated; when they returned they found they were allegedly robbed of a few shirts and a laptop. They also complained that the fire alarm was deactivated without their knowledge.

The Indian hockey team, too, had reportedly complained of lack of basic amenities in their rooms and had to purchase chairs and TVs.

A few other incidents to have shocked and surprised people in the run up to the Games included the killing of a jaguar, which was part of an Olympic torch event. The feline was shot, while it tried to escape as it was being shifted to a zoo. Then there were the police officers and firefighters who put up a banner that said, “Welcome to Hell!” at the airport as the first set of tourists arrived in Rio.

The message was clear that they would struggle to provide adequate security at a time when the common man in Brazil is paying a heavy price for the incredulous cost of the Games.

Sporting Scandals

It’s not just the non-sporting events that were in the news for all the wrong reasons. Russia, accused of a state-run doping program during the Winter Games at Sochi in 2014, faced the danger of being barred from the Games on the recommendation of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

However, the International Olympic Committee ruled out a complete ban and left it to individual federations to decide on the eligibility of the Russian athletes. On the eve of the opening ceremony, Russia said that the IOC had cleared 271 of its athletes to take part in the events.

India, too, witnessed a murky incident unfold days before the Olympics. Wrestler Narsingh Yadav, India’s quota winner in the 74-kg category, was embroiled in a battle with India’s two-time Olympic medalist Sushil Kumar. While Kumar – originally a 66 kg wrestler, changed his category to 74 kgs due to technical reasons wanted a trial, Yadav declined, saying he had the right to go as he had won the quota by winning at the World Championships in the U.S., which is standard procedure for qualification in India.

The case went to court and eventually Yadav prevailed. But that was followed by an even embarrassing episode. Yadav failed a drug test only to be later declared that it was a case of sabotage, as another competitor had allegedly contaminated Yadav’s food. Although cleared for now, it is still not clear if Yadav will be competing at the Games. Surely the incident unraveled the ugly side of sports in India.

Top Attractions

It’s finally time to put all the negativity behind and optimistically look forward to a successful Olympic Games. There were questions about the soccer World Cup in 2014, but the sport came out victorious, in the end. The Brazilian national team left the fans heartbroken, though, after being thrashed 7-1 in the semifinals by Germany. They have been offered another chance at redemption, and a first Olympic soccer gold will go a long way in lifting the morale of a depressed nation.

Novak Djokovic, too, is eyeing his first medal at the Games. A gold will hand him a golden slam, however, he will have some tough competition in Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. Serena Williams, meanwhile, will be aiming for her fifth gold. She has three in doubles and one in singles so far.  

Another sport that is being excitedly talked about is golf. Making a comeback after being last played in Summer Olympics in 1904, the sport will be watched closely, but with three top stars, Jordan Spieth, McIlroy and Day, giving the tournament a miss, this could well be bad advertising for the sport. But, does that also give India’s Anirban Lahiri a genuine shot at glory? Only time will tell. The Indian contingent has reached Rio with a lot of promise. Expect some good news coming out of badminton, wrestling, shooting, tennis and even hockey.

Crème de la Crème: By all means it will be the two most decorated Olympians of all time – Michael Phelps, who will be looking to add to his tally of 22 medals; and Usain Bolt, who will yet again aim for the triple that he achieved in the previous two Olympics.

As the Games kickoff, it’s time to immerse ourselves in the spirit of Olympics.

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