Rio de Janeiro looks ahead to 2016

Organizers say they will be ready to show off their people, culture

August 12, 2012|By K.C. Johnson, Tribune Newspapers

LONDON — — They used words like passion and embrace and emphasized the tagline "a city leaps forward."

But Leonardo Gryner perhaps put it best when the CEO of Rio de Janeiro's organizing committee offered a hint of what to expect at the 2016 Olympics in the Carnival City.

"In Brazil, as you know, we like to party," Gryner said at a news conference.

Rio received the Olympic flag at Closing Ceremonies for the London Games Sunday night, unveiling 250 dancers and musicians in an eight-minute ceremony that officials said was designed to showcase the city's "multicultural embrace."

Thus, the four-year countdown for the city that beat out Chicago's high-profile bid has begun with hints of both promise and problems.

"Our city is only known by clichés and faint information," said Daniella Thomas, one of the artistic directors for Sunday's program. "They're not wrong and don't misrepresent us. But we want to show you other levels. We have incredible people, incredible culture, incredible passion. We embrace culture. So I think it's going to be the clichés re-invented."

Gryner said construction began on Olympic Park and Olympic Village in June and all sporting venues will be completed by 2015 in time for a full test event. Gryner added that security plans are well underway and new public transport systems needed to reach the four different zones where events will be held also will be finished in time.

All of this is part of a roughly $15 billion undertaking for infrastructure and operation costs, organizers said.

However, Brazil, which also is hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup, has raised question marks regarding its older airports and lack of hotel rooms. And one of the main sporting venues is named after Joao Havelange, the ex-president of FIFA who was found by a Swiss court to have received close to $1 million in bribes in the 1990s.

Brazil's national organizing committee officials have set a goal of placing in the top 10 of the medal count in 2016. That may be a tall task following a desultory showing for the world's fifth largest country here, with just three golds and 17 overall medals.

Such a low count contrasts sharply with Great Britain's large leap of success here. After landing just one gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games, Great Britain has jumped to 29 golds and 65 overall medals here, third and fourth, respectively.

Only Greece, which placed 15th in 2004, and Italy, ninth in 2006, have failed to finish in the top five for overall medal count as host countries since 2000.

"It takes approximately eight years to prepare an athlete," Gryner said. "So it's a long-term plan that started some years ago. We're doing our best to increase the number of athletes in individual sports because Brazil has been very traditional in team sports."

If Brazil can't match Great Britain's sporting success, it at least will try to emulate its safety, organization and transportation efficiency.

"The Games in London have been very inspiring for us," Gryner said. "We have learned from the London team. We hope we can achieve the same results as London did."

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