RIO DE JANEIRO: The Rio Olympics got off to a troubled start yesterday as a loud blast erupted near the cycling race’s finish line and a bullet ripped through the media tent at the equestrian venue. Long queues also formed outside venues – as competition went on inside – as volunteers and security staff struggled to cope with a sudden influx of fans.
The Brazilian military carried out a controlled explosion near the Copacabana finish line of Rio Olympics men’s road cycling race yesterday, witnesses said. Military bomb disposal experts were at the scene of the explosion and kept crowds away with police. The explosion stunned crowds gathering for the end of the race. The race leaders were about 100 km away at the time.
Elsewhere at the Deodoro venue, onlookers were shocked when a bullet pierced the temporary venue housing media, leaving visible holes in the fabric roof and wall. It made for an unsettling day one of the Rio Games, which were launched in a blaze of color by Friday’s flamboyant opening ceremony. But in further violence on Friday, police gunned down a mugger outside the ceremony venue, the Maracana stadium, and a woman was shot and killed by armed assailants near the Olympic Boulevard.
The events overshadowed a busy opening day of action in which little-known American teenager Virginia Thrasher became the first gold-medalist, in the women’s 10m air rifle, the first of 306 medal events. In swimming, China’s Sun Yang was to defend his 400m crown later yesterday, and Britain’s Tour de France Chris Froome was among the road race competitors. Serbian rowers Milos Vasic and Nenad Bedik capsized in choppy waters at the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, while Iran’s Ghader Mizbani suffered a terrifying crash in the cycling race.
At Olympic Park, the Games’ hub, fans complained bitterly over transport and logistical problems which soured their experience on a sweltering day in Rio. “We were caught like sardines in the bus and there are huge queues here,” said Adriana Barbosa who travelled to Rio de Janeiro from Sao Paulo for the weekend. Rio Olympics spokesman Mario Andrada apologized for the long queues and admitted the tournament needed to raise its game.
“Indeed we have problems on some venues especially in the Olympic Park,” he said. “We apologize to everybody who is standing under the sun and in lines outside of venues. “We need to upgrade that part of the game. We moved people from Rio 2016 to speed up the mag and bag (checks) and within the next hours we will be in much better shape.” He added: “We do hope nobody missed any important part of a competition for being on lines.”
Thrasher, 19, fired the first shot for the United States when she shocked China’s Du Li and Yi Siling to win the Games’ first gold in the women’s 10m air rifle. “This is beyond my wildest dreams,” beamed the engineering student at West Virginia University, who clinched victory on her final shot. Golds were also on offer in weightlifting, archery, fencing and judo, while rugby made its return to the Olympic program after a gap of 92 years. Camille Grassineau scored the first try of the tournament – and the first ever Olympic try in rugby’s sevens format – as France’s women beat Spain 24-7.
Earlier, the Rio Games launched with a flamboyant spectacle headlined by supermodel Gisele Bundchen on Friday as a doom-laden Olympic build-up gave way to an energetic party atmosphere at the fabled Maracana stadium. Marathon runner Vanderlei Cordeiro lit the cauldron after an exuberant show of Brazilian cultural touchstones and breathtaking pyrotechnics – and a compulsory burst of samba. Cordeiro was a left-field but touching choice after he was famously attacked by a spectator while leading the 2004 Athens Olympics marathon late in the race.
But in a reminder of Brazil’s parlous political and economic situation, boos and jeers greeted interim president Michel Temer before he declared South America’s first Olympic Games open. Temer took over when impeachment proceedings started against President Dilma Rousseff, whose supporters accuse him of plotting against the suspended leader.
Despite the resentful undercurrent, and protests against the Games just hours earlier, spirits were high among the thousands of athletes, performers, fans and officials at the 78,000-capacity Maracana. “The Olympic dream is now a wonderful reality. The best place in the world is here and now,” said organizing committee chief Carlos Nuzman, to rapturous applause. Brazilian singer Paulinho da Viola sang the national anthem to set off the show of laser lights and elaborate dances highlighting Brazil’s history and rise as an emerging power.
Bundchen strutted across the arena to the iconic “Girl From Ipanema” before Greece, home of the ancient Olympics, led out the colorful athletes’ parade. More than 10,000 athletes from 207 teams took part, with the biggest cheers reserved for the specially formed refugee team and the joyous Brazilian contingent. Iran’s flagbearer was wheelchair-bound Zahra Nemati, their first ever female flag-carrier who will compete in archery despite being paralyzed in both legs. Each athlete was presented with a seed and a cartridge of soil to enable them to plant a native tree of Brazil, which will ultimately form an “Athletes Forest” made up of 207 different species – one for each delegation.
“This is the moment of the ‘maravilhosa cidade’ (marvelous city),” said International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach. “This first ever Olympic Games in South America will go from Brazil to the entire world.” Indigenous tribes and dueling dance groups were among the highlights of a show low on technology but high on invention. But the overwhelming theme of the evening was protection of the environment.
An early opening sequence depicted the birth of life, culminating in the sprouting of a green entanglement of leaves from the stadium floor depicting the Amazon rainforest. Indigenous Brazilians then performed native dances before creating huge “Ocas” or native huts in the center of the stage. That gave way to an exuberant, joyous party which encompassed Brazil’s breathtakingly diverse musical and cultural traditions. The celebratory atmosphere followed fresh protests earlier when about 3,000 people with placards saying “No to the Olympics!” gathered outside a luxury hotel where many athletes are staying. – Agencies