RIO DE JANEIRO: The Rio Olympics were going to be a disaster, right? Well try telling that to the crowds of locals and tourists flocking to the Olympic flame in central Rio on Saturday.
After weeks of tension over security, unready facilities, the Zika virus and pollution, Friday night’s trouble-free opening ceremony appeared to have taught Brazilians and foreigners alike to love the Games.
Even as a controlled explosion near the cycling venue and a stray bullet hit a press tent at the Olympic equestrian centre, the mood in Rio’s centre remained upbeat.
“People are proud after the ceremony. A lot of people — definitely me — feared a disaster,” said Fabiana Amaral, 32, who came to visit the flame in Rio’s new pedestrian Olympic Boulevard with her family.
“Now we’re proud. Brazil has a lot of culture and we showed that off, we showed that we’re not just about cliches of women’s bums and football,” Amaral, an architect, said.
In the hot sunshine tourists poured along the boulevard. Hundreds stopped for selfies in front of the flame, which was transferred to a silver cauldron there after the ceremony in the Maracana stadium.
The unusual arrangement for the flame — traditionally it is kept burning inside the main Olympic stadium — has helped warm the city’s attitude to the Games.
“This flame is for the people. It’s great for ordinary people who can’t pay for tickets or for all the transport. They can easily come here,” said Aline Motta, 48, a chemical engineer.
“We were so worried before. We were very concerned about what would happen, but the party last night was amazing,” she said. “We are proud at this moment.”
If Brazilians are embracing their Olympics, foreigners are discovering they don’t have to feel quite so afraid.
Rio does have horrific crime problems.
The shooting by police of a mugger near the Maracana on Friday and the fatal mugging of a woman near the Olympic Boulevard a few hours earlier were just part of a toll reaching almost five violent deaths a day.
But as Guy Horcasitas, a tech security entrepreneur from California, found out, Rio is also a place where good things happen to tourists.
“I had a little too much to drink last night and fell asleep in the street in Lapa,” said Horcasitas, 39, with a wry grin.
“This morning I woke up and everything was still in my pockets.”
“Yeah,” he said, laughing, “it’s that bad here!”
Australian athletes’ tribulations in the Olympic Village — blocked toilets, a fire and theft of equipment — became a symbol of Rio’s organizational hiccups.
But Australia’s consul general in Rio, Kym Fullgrabe, said all that is in the past now.
“Bad news travels fast but there are good news stories too,” Fullgrabe said on the Olympic Boulevard.
He gestured at the pedestrian area, which used to be an inaccessible freeway.
“People who say there’s no (positive) legacy for Rio should come and look at this. It’s a wonderful area now,” he said.
Keith Willing, a Florida salesman visiting the Olympics with his family, said he’d traveled enough abroad to know that things mightn’t be as bad as painted.
“We don’t always believe what we read. We know how to filter it,” Willing, 58, said.
His daughter Tamra Willing-Silva, 29, added: “You can’t put Brazil in a box.”