Published On: Mon, Aug 22nd, 2016

Rio 2016 proves once again the Olympics are too big to fail

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“Don’t come here expecting Chicago, New York or London. Compare Rio with Rio” – Mayor Eduardo Paes, prior to the Olympics.

We made it. Somehow.

Rio 2016, so maligned in the buildup to the event and during the spectacle itself, crossed the finish line during Sunday evening’s closing ceremony, a colorful celebration of Brazilian art and history capping a contentious 16 days.

The Olympic flame was doused and the baton officially passed to Tokyo, as Japan prepares to welcome the world in 2020; if felt so many times like Brazil would drop the damn thing along the way.


But it went off. Not without a hitch – or 10 – but the Olympic machine is impossible to derail. And so it rumbles on.

It was fitting that, as per Olympic tradition, the victorious trio from the men’s marathon stood inside the Maracana to accept their medals from Sunday’s grueling race during the closing ceremony. Rio 2016 was just that: a marathon. Not Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon. Oh no. The Kenyan sensation blazed across the finish line, blowing away the field without showing an ounce of strain on his face. There was no struggle.

Rio didn’t enjoy such leisure. The struggle was real, and it began immediately.

Shortly after the opening ceremony had concluded, a group of knife-wielding thieves attacked the security coordinator of the event just outside the Maracana. One of them was shot dead, his body lying in the street as spectators leaving the ceremony walked by.

A stray bullet reportedly found its way into the equestrian press center. Ticket sales were shambolic across multiple venues (the Olympic Stadium had swathes of empty seats any time Usain Bolt wasn’t on the track). Lines were long. The diving pool turned green (chemistry isn’t an exact science, after all).

There were thefts. Actual robberies, not just exaggerated accounts of robberies by a certain American swimmer blessed with world-class talent but burdened with the intelligence of a garden tool.

Related: What will change, what will stay the same at Tokyo 2020

And yet, despite the obvious deficiencies and ragged nature of preparation, the games themselves and the athletes they celebrate – the real reason anybody cares about the Olympics – will be remembered as a success.

Because they’re always a success. The Olympics, for all their faults – social, economic, and otherwise – can’t fail. The athletes make it so; with their stories of perseverance, their will to compete, and their love of sport.

Usain Bolt completed an unprecedented triple-triple, the greatest sprinter of all time allaying injury fears by showing, again, that he has no equals. When you think back to Rio, the Jamaican slapping his chest in celebration before even crossing the line in the 100m final will come to mind.


You’ll remember Michael Phelps making Olympic history, humbling Chad le Clos in the process. You’ll remember his face, too. That face.

Simone Biles dazzled. Andre De Grasse inherited the title as “the next one.” Neymar led his soccer-crazed country to the gold medal they deeply desired more than any other. Runners crashed and helped one another off the bright blue track, encouraging them to get up and finish the race. Walkers, too.

The Olympic spirit lives on.

That’s what you’ll remember from Rio. Not the empty seats or that the Velodrome wasn’t quite ready on time, or Ryan Lochte’s stupidity (alright, fine, maybe Ryan Lochte’s stupidity).

Related: 16 unforgettable moments from Rio 2016

“History will talk about the Rio before, and the much better Rio after the Games,” International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach pronounced during Sunday’s closing ceremony, willfully ignorant of the crashing economy belonging to the country in which he was speaking.

When the Olympic bill arrives in the mail, those financial concerns seem destined to be exacerbated. The real impact of the games on the people most affected by them, as always, will take time to unfold. Check back with the Cariocas, the people of Rio, in the coming years. Then we’ll know for sure.


For now, however, in the immediate aftermath, there is a sense of fondness.

Brazil delivered. Rio delivered, as only Rio could. Eduardo Paes was right about that, at least. This inherently gorgeous city didn’t live up to the precedent set by Barcelona or London, and that’s okay. Just as everyone who tried in vain to catch Kipchoge on Sunday morning, the seaside South American city couldn’t reel in its predecessors.

Rio was every other runner in that marathon field. The ones with pain strewn across their faces. They grit their teeth and, eventually, get over the line.

They made it. Rio made it. Somehow.



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