A city of mind-boggling contrasts

And so The Greatest Show on Earth is at the halfway point.

Here in Rio, it seems the Games are just about managing to stagger along. At times it does so in a cartoon way, where exaggerated lurching to left and right is met with equally magnified ooohs and aaahs, and everything just about stays upright.

Sometimes it is the simple things, the ones we take for granted at home: let no one again criticise self-service packing and paying at supermarkets. That is the epitome of the efficiency god. So, too, attempting to buy shaving foam. Try acting that one out in a shop. It needed its own watershed.

Much has been documented about the lack of spectators at venues, the security concerns and press transport and food. Some things do seem to have a mind of their own. Roads that are open one minute are closed the next. Buses designed to take the likes of Fran Halsall to the Olympic Aquatics Stadium for her semi-final instead zip over to the Olympic Stadium many kilometres away.

And all the while Rio keeps going. As it always has and always will.

The Olympic experience will be different depending on where you are based in the city. A friend staying in Centro was greeted on his return in the early hours following a long day with a street so full of revellers that he had to negotiate a parallel street and come back on himself. Not that people were spilling out of bars; rather sharp-minded entrepreneurs had packed fridges with ice-cold beer and had driven along, Rio-style, setting up on the street.

Leblon is an upmarket area south of Ipanema where the bars are doing a roaring trade: people spill out on the streets with waiters constantly on the move, weaving through the crowds with small beers – a chopp – and plates of finger food, much of it meaty.

Many are based in Barra, which is further south and off many maps. The edge of the world? Quite. This is where three media villages have been built – later to be turned into residential flats – and where the bright lights of the city seem a world away. Here there is quiet. It is surrounded by forest, high up the hills. There are rumoured to be toucans as well as agoutis – small rodents – and even snakes …

Given I had not been to Rio before the Games, I have nothing to compare to my current experience. The constant whirr of helicopters, the police motorcades and blacked-out windows denoting when a VIP is approaching, maybe this is all normal, but it is also a reminder that the Games are here.

It is odd not to have the Olympic Stadium at the Olympic Park, as it has been at other Games, but economics won that argument and quite rightly in a country in the grip of recession and where distribution of wealth is debatable.

Anyway, here’s to another week in the Olympic bubble.


Liz Byrnes. After an early career in PR and marketing, Liz changed her focus to what she had always really wanted and re-trained as a journalist in Sheffield. She spent 12 years at PA where she covered football, athletics and swimming before going freelance in January 2014. She now works for a number of organisations including The Guardian, BBC, Sheffield Star, Wardles, SwimVortex, AFP and Arena. Liz’s latest articles

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