Revamped Rio embraces Olympic spirit

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Rio de Janeiro, Aug 4 (IANS) Even before the Olympic flame is lit at the Maracana stadium on Friday, the legacy of the Rio 2016 Games has already been assured.

The Rio de Janeiro that will show itself to the world from August 5 to 21 is vastly different to the one that seven years ago won the right to host the first Olympics in South America, reports Xinhua.

A gleaming port district, a new subway line, a light rail service, express bus lanes, a road featuring Brazil’s longest underground tunnel and state-of-the-art sports arenas are just some of the infrastructure projects that have been completed for the Rio Games.

Some $15.7 billion has been invested to prepare the city for the Olympics, more than half of which has come from the private sector.

In addition to urban mobility projects and stadiums, Rio’s Olympic blueprint has included a plan to create schools, training facilities and leisure centers for the public.

The quality of life for Rio residents will also benefit from new waste management projects that have reduced pollution in the city’s waterways, according to the local organizing committee.

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And thousands of people will receive job training designed to help create pathways for new careers and business opportunities.

According to International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, the greatest legacy will be a new, united Brazil, despite the South American country’s political and economic troubles.

Nobody said that Rio’s road to the Olympics would be a smooth one.

Since being named as the 2016 host city, Rio has sunk into a prolonged recession and is suffering from political uncertainty amid an impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff, who has been accused of breaking budget rules.

Even the country’s football team is a shadow of its once-mighty self, still smarting from a calamitous 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup on home soil.

But does that mean Rio’s residents will turn their backs on the Olympics during Games time? And will the 500,000 visitors that are expected to pour into the city be given a cold reception from their hosts?

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Absolutely not.

It is not in the national psyche of Brazilians, especially Cariocas – as Rio’s effervescent residents are known – to wallow in self pity. It is even less so to mistreat their guests.

Rio is nothing if not hospitable. As it has shown during the long list of major events recently staged in the city — in addition to new year’s eve and carnival, which draw millions of foreign visitors each year — Rio is a seasoned and obliging host.

“I can’t believe the Olympics are going to start on Friday. It’s only sinking in now,” Meg, a local translator, told this correspondent as we sat in a pizzaria packed with tourists in Rio’s nightlife district of Lapa.

Rodrigo, an engineer, is taking two weeks off work, even though he doesn’t have a single ticket to an event. “The sports I want to watch are too expensive,” he says. “I just want to soak up the experience and party every day with all the tourists.”

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Thousands have taken the chance to seek temporary employment and volunteering roles. Rio’s city government website crashed in April when its servers were unable to cope with the surge in traffic after announcing 10,000 Olympic job vacancies.

That is not to say that all Cariocas will be staying in Rio for the Olympics. Many workplaces will be closing their doors during the Games and some of their employees are taking the chance to go on a vacation.

The penchant among Cariocas to put their worries aside and smile was perhaps best explained by the late Brazilian poet and songwriter, Vinicius de Moraes, in his 1967 bossa nova classic, Samba da Bencao.

“To dance samba with beauty, it takes a bit of sadness, otherwise it wouldn’t be samba,” the lyrics go.

“… Samba is sadness that dances. And sadness always has hope.”



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