The 2016 Summer Olympics kick off this Friday, and Rio de Janeiro is so committed to getting everything right that, even as athletes arrive, workers are flitting about the buildings constructed for the Games, making minor improvements (like tidying up collapsed structures, making the toilets flush, and figuring out why the fire alarms don’t work). Here’s a look at some of the extremely new venues constructed for the Games.
Beach Volleyball Arena
Constructing a stadium as tall as a seven-story building on the edge of the beach doesn’t sound like the smartest idea, but rest assured that Rio’s beach-volleyball arena has all of the latest safety features — because workers were still putting the finishing touches on it in late July.
The Rio Olympics website describes the venue as “an impressive temporary structure situated on the sands of Copacabana beach,” and the fact that athletes will be competing there next week is certainly impressive. Last month there were concerns that the arena would not be completed in time after work stalled for four days because of a missing permit, and the structure was damaged by waves.
Spectators are understandably eager to see the arena, but they should probably hold off until more security is in place. Last month the New York Times’ Vanessa Barbara reported after visiting the site:
Workers erected a six-foot-high sand barrier to protect the site. It also protects thugs; tourists are being mugged behind it. A construction worker told me he’d seen a man stabbed there, and warned me to stay away. The robbers were so comfortable that they had left their backpacks and a beach chair nearby on the sand.
Plus, there’s the risk of encountering human body parts on the shore.
Marina da Glória
Some people were alarmed when the main ramp of the Olympic sailing venue, which allows boats to get into the water, collapsed on Sunday because of wind and ten-foot-high waves. But according to the International Olympic Committee, this is just part of the Olympic experience, not a sign that the Rio Games are a $4.1 billion accident waiting to happen. “In the run-up to the games things happen,” IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said. “It would be wrong to make a great deal out of it.”
The ramp should be repaired by Friday, and the athletes remain focused on the task ahead of them. Specifically, avoiding the bacteria and floating garbage in the water surrounding Rio.
Last summer, the Associated Press reported that the water was “so contaminated with human feces that [athletes] risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games.” Sure enough, 13 U.S. swimmers developed stomach illnesses during trial championships a few weeks later. Independent testing found the water was 1.7 million times more disease-ridden than what would be tolerated at a beach in California, and athletes who consume just three teaspoons of water have a 99 percent chance of infection.
On the bright side, Olympians now have an opportunity to show that they’re creative, not just athletically talented. The U.S. Olympic rowing team will be wearing seamless, antimicrobial unisuits to protect themselves. Helicopters will be deployed every morning to point out floating garbage. And, two weeks ago, Australian sailors Mat Belcher and Will Ryan told the AAP they’re developing a special routine to avoid obstacles like dead animals and plastic bags:
“Two or three times a day we would be caught up with rubbish on our foil,” Belcher told AAP from Rio.
“We need to stop, slow the boat down completely and raise our foils.
“It’s getting better, hopefully we can get it down to one or two a week.”
And if all else fails, health experts have some simple advice: Keep your mouth closed.
Rio’s Olympic velodrome offers more proof that concerns about this year’s Games are overblown. The site of the track cycling competition suffered multiple delays, several test events were canceled, and at one point it looked like the venue might never be built. But after switching contractors in May, the velodrome was completed just in time.
On Monday, Cycling New Zealand high performance director Mark Elliott reported that the velodrome is ready to go, though “it’s a bit dusty in there and they’ll have to do some work to make sure they keep it clean.”
He noted that in a newly constructed velodrome “there’s always dust coming down from the ceiling,” and “you know, it’s round, it’s a piece of wood, and we’ll all go the same direction.” Plus, you can’t really complain about a little dust when other athletes are swimming through poop-infested waters.
Olympic Golf Course
Golf Digest calls the course constructed for the sport’s return to the Olympics “a work of art.” Unfortunately, many top players won’t get to see it because they’re skipping the Games over concerns about Zika. And constructing it wasn’t easy, as the New York Times explains:
Along the way, there were setbacks and logistical delays, including late paychecks, limited resources, equipment issues, environmental protests, bureaucratic roadblocks, debates over land ownership and a monthslong legal battle in which the builders were accused of violating environmental regulations.
The builders were prohibited from removing or adding any soil to the course and were forced to dig below sand deposits for usable soil. Chemicals were banned. Sand was recycled for traps.
But now that Rio has the $23 million course, it all seems worth it, especially because once the games are over the site will be enjoyed by — dozens of? — Brazilian golfers. It’s set to become the country’s first public golf course once the Games are over; though, as the Times’ Vanessa Barbara notes, “The city already has two big golf courses, and very few Brazilians play golf.”
The Olympic Village
Just as one rotten Trip Advisor review can ruin a cute B&B, one nation refusing to move its team into the athletes’ village because of serious safety concerns can really tarnish a host nation’s reputation. In late July, Kitty Chiller, the chef de mission in Rio de Janeiro for the Australian Olympic Committee, said that no one from Team Australia would be moving into their assigned building over concerns about the electricity, plumbing, and gas. She continued:
Problems include blocked toilets, leaking pipes, exposed wiring, darkened stairwells where no lighting has been installed and dirty floors in need of a massive clean.
In operations areas water has come through the ceiling resulting in large puddles on the floor around cabling and wiring.
But New Zealand and Italy said their accommodations were fine (after they hired their own crews to fix the electricity and plumbing). And Chiller said the organizers made “fantastic progress” in resolving the issue (after she generated negative headlines worldwide). Only two-thirds of the 31 17-story buildings constructed for the athletes passed safety inspections by July 25, but officials said the rest would be ready by the end of the week.
Eventually, the Australian athletes moved into the Olympic village — then, over the weekend, a fire broke out in their “smoke free” building when someone threw a cigarette into a pile of garbage in the basement.
Then some clothing and a laptop were stolen from their rooms while the fire was being extinguished. And news of the fire spread by word of mouth because the fire alarms weren’t working. But on the plus side, we haven’t heard any reports that the athletes’ village is inhabited by packs of stray dogs.