Gil LeBreton

Rio de Janeiro hurries to welcome the world


High above the city — its rich and its poor, its beaches and its favelas, its harsh realities and its Olympic dreams — the statue of Cristo Redentor, Christ the Redeemer, overlooks Rio de Janeiro.

Its arms outstretched, the Christ figure appears to be welcoming the world.

Or, with its palms raised to the heavens, the statue also could be asking the same thing everyone else is with one year to go before the start of the 2016 Olympic Games:

What’s the deal, Rio? Is the first South American city chosen to host an Olympic Games going to be ready or not?

It’s not the first time, of course, that doubting Thomases have probed the wounds of an Olympic host. The question, “Will they be ready?,” has been asked of every hosting city since Athens in 1896.

Labor delays and budget shortfalls are as much a part of the Olympic run-up as the torch relay. London, as it turned out, proved itself more than ready in 2012. Sydney, minus a few floral garnishes, answered the bell in 2000.

In a recent video, Rio organizers showed a computer-enhanced overview of the work in progress. The Olympic Park at Barra da Tijuca, it reported, was “82 percent” ready. The athletes’ Olympic Village, which will become public housing after the Games, is “90 percent” complete.

As those who watched last year’s soccer World Cup can attest, Rio with its sandy beaches already abounds in enchanting panoramas.

The World Cup, as it turned out, proved disarming to critics of Rio’s selection as host of the back-to-back sporting carnivals. Somehow, amidst the protests and the traffic congestion, tourists and spectators came and partied and went — some of them with a signature Brazilian suntan.

That’s Rio. Carnaval. Beaches. Its arms outstretched, half in welcome, half in carioca devil-may-care.

All bacteria-polluted waters aside, the athletes are likely going to love Rio de Janeiro. Put it this way: They can wear the swimsuits.

The venues will be scattered over four Olympic zones — Barra, Copacabana, Maracana and Deodoro. The time required to travel between the two most distant areas, Barra and Deodoro, is said to be 50 minutes.

Organizers have predicted that 480,000 tourists will attend the Rio games, which will run Aug. 5-21, 2016.

Will Rio be ready? The eternal answer to the eternal Olympic question is “ready enough.” The torch waits for no one.

The timing will be more pertinent than ever for U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, who will be attempting another golden comeback, this time at age 30. Phelps is under suspension by USA Swimming following a 2014 arrest for driving under the influence and was not allowed to swim at this week’s world championships in Kazan, Russia.

Swimming in what amounted to a B-league meet in San Antonio this weekend, however, Phelps won the 200-meter butterfly in 1:52.94 — nearly a half-second faster than the Hungarian who won the same event last week at the worlds. Phelps has 18 Olympic gold medals, in case you lost count.

The other U.S. swim multi-star is expected to be Katie Ledecky who, at 18, already holds four freestyle world records.

Texas Olympic hopefuls abound again. The list includes swimmers Dana Vollmer of Granbury, who has four Olympic gold medals and will attempt to swim in her third Games, and Colleyville’s Katie Meili, gold medalist at the recent Pan Am Games.

Arlington wrestlers Tervel Dlagnev and Randi Miller will be back to try for another Olympics.

American gymnasts have won the last three women’s all-around gold medals. Another Texan, Simone Biles of Spring, will be favored to become the fourth.

And after an absence of 112 years, golf will be back on the Olympics card. Dallas’ Jordan Spieth is expected to lead the four-man U.S. team.

Golf’s reception, which has the blessing of the world’s men and women professionals, will be closely watched. The sport is not broadly followed in the host nation. Rio only had two courses and had to build the Olympic layout — at no small expense — from scratch.

Organizers, though, say that it, too, will be ready. Ready enough.

The countdown is down to one year — and counting. Rio, the city that loves to party, is hard at work.

Same as all the past Olympic host cities, the ones that didn’t have a giant statue of Christ overlooking them, just to make sure.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @gillebreton

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