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Olympic Dreams Morphing into Nightmares in Panicked Rio


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The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat; if only it were that simple. Add to that longstanding sports equation: the globally feared Zika contagion, the massive new subway system scheduled to complete an unnerving 24 hours before the games begin, the rowing event through floating sewage, and the jarring police presence––things aren’t looking so hot for Rio De Janeiro. 

The preparations for the quadrennial Games have already achieved legendary status in the eyes of the world’s Olympics watchers, and not in a good way. The impeachment of a President for corruption coupled with charges of a like corruption in the Olympic preparations––however flawlessly the Olympics come off this year, the press is already so stunningly bad that the country may take a generation to live it down. From a construction standpoint alone, the 2016 Summer Olympics are an object lesson in preparation, and knowing your client.

It’s a fact that every four years, the Olympic run-up media machine churns out newsstand-ready copy that plays to the international public’s thirst for disaster. The most successful and smooth-running instances of Olympic hosting (think London 2012) are inevitably described as running off the rails during the much-watched preparation phase. In most cases, despite sensational reports of insurmountable difficulties,  grand and colorful Olympic opening ceremonies come off without a noticeable hitch. Rio’s reported Olympic travails may just seem like more of The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Or this year there may be an actual wolf. Here are a handful of construction-related debacles that are giving Olympic disaster fans a summer to remember.  

The Rio Olympic Velodrome

Cycling enthusiasts were left wondering at the fate of Rio’s Olympic velodrome when the developer in charge of construction, Tecnosolo, declared bankruptcy on May 30. The job was then handed over to subcontractor Engetécnica, who has all-but-guaranteed the track will be complete in time for the actual Olympic events. Unfortunately, the change of contractors put the velodrome sufficiently behind schedule that Olympic officials were obliged to cancel two track-testing events. The problems reportedly arose from the unloading and installation of the Siberian Spruce used for the track itself. The velodrome is now the most delayed of Rio's permanent Olympic venues 

Rio’s Subway Line 4

On June 18 the Rio de Janeiro State government declared "a state of emergency,” owing to the non-delivery by Brazil’s federal government of promised Olympic cash to Rio de Janeiro State––money that would have gone principally to the brand new Olympic subway system expected to carry an estimated 300,000 Olympic spectators a day from world-famous Ipanema beach to the suburb of Barra de Tijuca (where the Olympic Park and Village are located). 

The absolutely essential subway line is an inexplicable $2 billion over budget, and running so behind schedule there is some question as to whether or not there will be time to test the subway before the sea of Olympic tourists climb aboard in their hundreds of thousands.

Should the subway line not be completed by the time the Olympics begin, the state is preparing special express bus lanes; a fallback scheme that would hopefully expedite the otherwise hour-long commute for Olympic visitors. 

Showpiece Elevated Bike Path

In April, within hours of the 2016 Olympic flame being lit in Greece, 50 meters of the Tim Maia Ciclovia seaside bike path was taken down by a huge rogue wave, killing two. A third person on the path at the time of the wave strike is missing. The $12 million elevated oceanfront bike path, which Rio city officials had thought would be a permanent legacy fixture of the 2016 Summer Games, had opened for bicyclists a mere four months before, as part of a larger city effort to improve all transport links in the run up to the games. The elevated bike path had been touted as “the most beautiful bike path in the world”.

Gymnastics Arena

An exhibition test event for Olympic artistic gymnasts in April was subject to repeated power outages lasting from 15 to 90 minutes, with lights cutting out in the middle of complex floor routines. The surprising outages lead the governing body of international gymnastic competition to openly question whether the host city was up to the task of bringing off the Olympics without a hitch. 

The Olympian scale of Rio’s 2016 summer games nightmare has prompted a number of unusually harsh public comments. The acting governor of Rio de Janeiro State, Francisco Dornelles, brings an unusual frankness to his public assessment of the dire situation facing this year’s Olympic host, his home country.

“We can have a great Olympics, but if some steps aren't taken, we can have a big failure.”

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