Olympic feelgood factor finally arrives in Rio

After a year of political turmoil and fears of a Zika epidemic, the mood in the Olympic Games host city is upbeat

It has been a long time coming, but the Olympic feelgood factor has finally arrived in Rio de Janeiro despite a sore test by lengthy queues and security scares. After a year of doom and gloom in which the build-up was plagued with financial calamity, political upheaval, collapsing infrastructure, rising crime, and the Zika epidemic the mood in the host city appeared to have been transformed overnight by Fridays successful opening ceremony and the start finally of the sport on Saturday morning.

Group stage football games marked by easy victories for Brazils mens and womens teams whetted the appetite earlier in the week, but were overshadowed by a turbulent Olympic torch relay that saw the torch extinguished multiple times by protesters.

But, as was the case in Beijing and London, the opening show a low-tech, but high-impact homage to the global environment by director Fernando Meirelles has shifted attention and lifted the spirits of locals and visitors.

Declared a triumph by local media Mas que beleza! (What beauty!) was a typical headline on the best-selling O Globo newspaper the ceremony marked the moment when Rio was able to get on with doing what it does best: having a good time.

The ceremony completely changed the mood among Cariocas [Rio inhabitants], said local Carlos Julianni. Until yesterday, most people were against the Olympics, but the show was really beautiful, especially considering the cost. It was much cheaper than Londons.

The Maracana stadium during the opening ceremony of the Rio games. Photograph: Francois-Xavier Marit/AFP/Getty Images
Taxi driver Luis Dominguez agreed: The difference between two days ago is so big its stupid, he said, adding that his earnings tripled between Thursday and Friday. I cant explain it. I guess it must have been the effects of the opening ceremony.

In the citys Zona Sul, the Olympics were in full swing. By the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, children peered through fencing at rowers taking their marks on the water. Near Arpoador, police diverted traffic from the route of a cycle race. On Copacabana beach, the Avenida Atlntica boulevard bustled with crowds of foreign tourists decked in their national colours as well as the usual joggers, cyclists and sun worshippers.

In front of hotels, team and tourist buses lined up to take athletes and spectators to events at the distant Olympic park and Deodoro venues. But for the beach volleyball, it was only necessary to walk across the road to the impressively huge temporary stadium that has been erected on the sand over the past few months.

Rising several storeys high on three sides, the structure is open to the elements on the ocean side. Its sound system booms out music and announcements that drown out the sound of the waves, though not the cheers of the crowd a welcome change from the angry chants of protesters and boos for politicians that Brazil has grown more accustomed to over the past year.

Brazils many political and economic woes were not completely forgotten. Across the road from the beach volleyball stadium, a large banner reading Fora Cunha down the side of an apartment block was a reminder of the anger stirred up by the ongoing impeachment of Workers Party president Dilma Rousseff, which was instigated by the former house speaker, Eduardo Cunha.

After protests and terrorist threats, the enormous security force is jittery. Police carried out a controlled explosion on a suspicious package near the end of the cycle race in which Tour de France champion Chris Froome was participating. There have been more than 30 bomb scares in the past two weeks. Of more immediate concern was how a bullet found its way into the media tent at Diadoro.

But few paid it any attention. In the build-up, two of the biggest concerns were traffic jams and tepid ticket sales, but on the first full day of the games the roads at least in the Zona Sul were relatively clear and there were long queues at the sales booth for the beach volleyball stadium. The biggest problem was congestion, with crowds of spectators filing slowly across the sand towards security gates. At one point the line was said to file back two kilometres. Such were the delays that the stadium was mostly empty for the opening of the volleyball competition.

The lighting of the Olympic cauldron. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images

Despite the long wait, the crowds appeared to be in good spirits helped no doubt by the balmy weather, coastal views and bossa nova music from the beachside restaurants. Wandering salesmen appeared to be doing a roaring trade in Brazilian flags, hats and despite the early hour booze.

Earlier this year, the Avenida Atlntica promenade was the venue for giant demonstrations against Rousseffs Workers Party government. The protesters then decked themselves in the green and yellow of the national flag, or wore the shirts of the Brazil football team. Today, the beachfront was once again filled with those colours but this time in a mood of celebration.

This is a historic moment for Brazil. Our country is finally starting to move, said Paulo Alexandro, a businessmen who was enjoying his first beer of the day as he waited to buy a ticket.

This is a great incentive for patriotism. The Olympics will help us put in place a sporting infrastructure that will last for years.

There were flags of other countries in evidence, too, whether fluttering against the clear blue sky above the stadium or draped around the shoulders of overseas visitors Canada, the US, Cuba, Britain, the Netherlands. Rio expects up to half a million foreign tourists to visit during the Olympics, providing a temporary but much-needed boost to the ailing economy.

Im having a great time. I love Brazil, beamed Jacopo Barbieri, an education manager from Italy. There was a lot of attention on this Olympics because it is the first in South America, but the mood has changed already. Just look around at all these people having fun. Its going to be great.

A more cautious note was struck by Suzy de Schepper, a local resident who had come to watch the beach volleyball with her Belgian husband. Yesterdays ceremony was very positive. It was a great show. The atmosphere now on the street and in the metro is really good. My only worry is who is going to pay? Its like a typical Brazilian wedding, where you take out a bank loan so you can throw a great party. But then you get the bill later.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/06/olympic-feelgood-factor-finally-arrives-rio-de-janeiro

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