Worries over terrorism and the Zika virus took a back seat and, for a short while at least, the sport and the business of winning gold medals stole the headlines.
With the Olympic cauldron now extinguished and the flag passed to Tokyo and “Super Mario,” here’s a selection of the good, the bad and the ugly from South America’s first Games.
Winter in the Southern Hemisphere is better than winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
Rio’s Games were mostly bathed in the kind of balmy sunshine you imagine when you daydream of Caipirinhas on the Copacabana, beside from the odd shower that served as a welcome cool down.
Although perfectly agreeable for the majority of the tourists who descended on the city, the temperatures seemingly proved inhospitable for mosquitos.
After a couple of days of diligently applying insect repellant, it quickly became obvious it wasn’t required.
Despite fears over the mozzies and the possible transmission of the Zika virus, they clearly decided to skip the festivities.
Their absence allowed people to enjoy the venues, in particular the stunning beach volleyball arena.
On the sands of one of the world’s most famous beaches, a stone’s throw from the ocean and with Sugarloaf Mountain peeking over the top of the stands, the open-air arena was the place to be.
This was especially true for the midnight finals which were the epitome of a modern Olympic spectacle with a constant sensory barrage of loud music and dancers — it even had its own house band.
The stands rocked, literally, as Brazil made it to both finals taking gold in the men’s competition while the women had to settle for silver.
Meanwhile at the northernmost tip of this Olympics, at Deodoro, Fiji’s merry band of warriors made history by winning the men’s rugby sevens tournament and, in the process, their country’s first medal.
It was the perfect end to the sport’s first appearance in the Olympic program, a raucous crowd cheering on a nation succeeding in a sport it adores.
Watching these man-mountains burst into floods of tears was heartwarming, all the more so considering Fiji is still recovering from the devastating effects of Cyclone Winston last February.
It was the perfect reminder of what the Olympics are all about. For every serial medalist like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, there are athletes for whom the stars align just once in a lifetime. And Fiji grabbed their opportunity with both hands.
Sadly, the Deodoro venue will be remembered less fondly than the champions it hosted.
A two-train commute from the sands of Copacabana and Ipanema, it felt neither particularly Brazilian nor particularly Olympic.
Situated on a military base and 30 minutes by foot from the nearest train station, entering Deodoro required a long parade past countless soldiers and camouflaged 4x4s.
It was a necessary security precaution but the sight of tanks and machine guns doesn’t encourage the kind of lighthearted frivolity one expects from a day at the Olympics.
And that’s without mentioning the stray bullet that found its way into the park. It’s perhaps no surprise that Deodoro has been cut from the Paralympic program.
Another blot on Rio’s report card is the amount of empty seats at a number of Olympic venues.
It’s been suggested that locals have been priced out of attending events — understandable given Brazil’s economic woes — and that these were seats corporate sponsors weren’t able to fill.
Whatever the reason, it seems inexcusable that the Olympic Stadium wasn’t packed out when Bolt ran into history and clinched the “triple-triple.”
You also have to feel for Elaine Thompson, Bolt’s fellow Jamaican who won the women’s 100-meters in front of a stadium roughly 60% full.
Another unsightly spectacle was the diving pool, which turned green early on in the Games, much to the confusion of organizers and the amusement of millions around the world.
Although entirely harmless — not to mention, perfectly suited to the official Rio 2016 color scheme — it created the impression that Brazil wasn’t 100% prepared for these Olympics.
It also didn’t help divers who were forced to postpone practice sessions.
Given fears over crime and terrorism, it’s understandable that these Games were so heavily secured. But it’s hard to stay in the Olympic spirit when, every which way you turn, is the sight of a soldier brandishing a large rifle.
It also created a sense that, while the city was warm and hospitable throughout, the real Rio was hiding somewhere out of view — for better or for worse.
It made for a very clean and sanitized experience, if not entirely authentic.
The ugliest spectacle, however, has been saved until last.
The sideshow created by Ryan Lochte and his fellow swimmers overshadowed three days of actual sport and led to tensions between the US and their Brazilian hosts.
While its possible to debate the rights and wrongs of what may or may not have happened, the real shame is that Lochte took the media spotlight away from athletes who don’t occupy center stage as frequently as he does.
The whole episode will also linger in the memory for as long as any other moment from these Olympics, which is the real tragedy.
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