Olympics: The good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly of the Rio Games

August 22, 2016 GMT

Rio de Janeiro • There’s a canal that splits one of Rio de Janeiro’s busiest freeways. It’s cut right into the concrete maze, bookended on both sides by a series of stacked brick houses. These are the favelas, where some residents lack front doors. Or windows. When it rains, they don’t have much of anything to keep from getting soaked.

In the midst of this, also along the highway sits the startling edifice of the Olympic Stadium. It’s impossible to miss. A work of art to some, a sore spot to many others, it contrasts spectacularly with the surrounding neighborhood — and serves as a fitting metaphor for a splintered city.

However, any concerns that Rio wasn’t up to staging the 2016 Summer Games vanished late Sunday when the Olympic flame was extinguished at the Maracanå. Despite all the pre-Games fears and criticism, Rio stood tall during the Olympic fortnight and mostly pulled it off.


Were there flaws? Yes. But it was the visitors, not the hosts, who often provided biggest unsavory headlines.

For every timeless moment Rio’s Olympics provided — be it gymnast Simon Biles in all her gold glory, or a tearful goodbye to the greatest Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps or Neymar’s penalty kick to lift Brazil past Germany for the men’s soccer gold — it seemed like there was a darker companion.

USA women’s soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo’s graceless comments about the Zika virus going in and the cowardice of the Swedes — who beat the favored U.S. for the gold medal — on her way out insulted the Brazilians and left everybody else aghast. That was soon topped, though, by U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte, who turned a night of drunken stupidity into an epic fabrication of a late-night mugging that dominated the Games’ narrative for days and played to the worst sterotypes about the host city.

The Americans’ weren’t alone on the podium for boorishness, of course. Lochte and Solo were joined by Pat Hickey, president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, who was arrested in Rio on Aug. 14 and faces charges of using his position for gain in an illegas ticket selling scam.

There were home-grown problems as well. A shuttle bus carrying media members was attacked one night — by what investigators later concluded were rocks — was the first of several eyebrow-raising incidents. The water in the Olympic diving pool had, for reasons still unclear, gallons of hydrogen peroxide dumped into it , causing the pool to turn green and smell. Then there was the gorgeous day during Week Two when an aerial camera hovering over the Barra Olympic Park came crashing down, injuring seven people.

There were too many empty seats — at every venue. Even after Rio organizers pledged to distribute over 280,000 tickets to local underprivileged children before the Games began, officials later admitted that over 50 percent of those kids never attended an event.


But on the whole, it was a glass-half-full Olympics, filled with many striking moments provided by the athletes.

Phelps seems to really be swimming off into the sunset this time, leaving a history-making legacy of 28 Olympic medals — 23 of which are gold. Usain Bolt, the showman extraordinaire of the Olympics, also left the stage in memorable fashion: Dancing and forever unbeaten. Bolt won three more gold medals on the track at Rio, leaving the world’s fastest man nine-for-nine in Olympic golds overall.

Led by Biles, Katie Ledecky and Allyson Felix, the U.S. women, had they competed as their own country, would have finished fourth in the final medals table with 61. Then there was enduring snapshot of American Abbey D’Agostino and New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin, who after their collision in their women’s 5,000-meter heat, picked one another off the blue track to cross the finish line together.

The astronomical number of medals won by Team USA — 121 overall, 46 gold, most ever by U.S. in a non-boycotted Olympics — will be a number talked about the next four years ahead of Tokyo. But Brazil’s snapshot came Saturday night inside the Maracanã. If his free kick goal in the first half wasn’t astounding enough, Neymar was asked to, once again, liberate a nation tormented by its recent struggles in the sport. And on that night, Brazil partied, as it absolutely deserved to do.

Rio had its name dragged through the slop several times over in the months leading up to the Games. But the city and its people pulled it off. On Sunday, mere hours after leading Brazil to gold against Germany, Neymar had the Rio 2016 logo tattooed on left wrist, accompanied by the Olympic rings placed comfortably below.

This city’s three weeks in the limelight is over. The world’s best athletes are now flying home and get back to their regular professional and amateur routines. Many will cash in on what was their breakout moments. Others will toil in the heartbreak of missing out on a podium or underachieving with their home countries watching.

But what will happen to Rio? The city delivered on these Games, despite news-cycle hysteria over the Zika virus and rampant crime and pollution and political turbulence. What will happen next to this staggeringly beautiful, if still troubled place? Will the Olympics help provide a way forward, or simply serve as a weight that will keep it down?

That might be the most interesting story of all.


Twitter: @chriskamrani