While U.S. athletes cleaned up at the Pan Am Games, Rio tried to boost its chances to be the host of bigger events
AS HE LEFT Maracan√£ Stadium after the opening ceremonies of the Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro last Friday night, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, the Games' chief organizer, spotted some of the performers skipping along in their gleaming costumes. "Grande espetàculo [The big show]," Nuzman proclaimed, clapping as he hopped beside them.
People in the land of Carnival know how to celebrate, and with several International Olympic Committee members looking on, Brazilians are displaying their enthusiasm and organizational acumen in hopes of winding up as hosts of the 2016 Summer Olympics as well.
During the first three days of competition in the Pan Am Games, in which U.S. athletes were dominant (11 golds, and 20 medals total), boisterous, near-capacity crowds filled several venues. "There were doubters who wondered if they could pull this off here," says Peter Ueberroth, the U.S. Olympic Committee chairman who ran the Los Angeles Games in 1984. "They have, and I'm very impressed."
The Pan Ams, which run through July 29, were not glitch-free, however. On the first day fans at a handball match between Brazil and Mexico chanted, "We want food!" when they discovered that the venue's concession stands were closed; a power failure at City of Rock stadium forced organizers to scrap night baseball games; and when Brazilian president Luiz Inàcio Lula da Silva rose from his box in Maracan√£ Stadium to proclaim the Games officially open on Friday night, he couldn't be heard. Pan Am officials, who had clashed with Lula, never turned on his mike, leaving Nuzman to ad-lib from the dais below.
But those were manageable disruptions for an event whose success ultimately could open the door for the Olympics to be staged in South America and other nontraditional sites (Africa and the Middle East included) that the IOC is exploring. Later this year Rio should get another feather in its cap as the favorite to be awarded soccer's 2014 World Cup. Then, in 2009, Brazilians will join residents of Chicago; Madrid; Tokyo; Doha, Qatar; and Baku, Azerbaijan (and possibly Rome and Prague), to await word on the IOC's choice to host the 2016 Games. Says Ueberroth, "There is more at stake in Rio than the medals that are won here."
Most of those medals went to U.S. athletes early on. Andy Potts and Julie Swail-Ertel swept the men's and women's triathlons; Potts built an 18-second lead after the swim, fell behind by 53 seconds after the bike leg but rallied in the 10K run to hold off Canada's Brent McMahon by seven seconds. Likewise, Fran Crippen and Chloe Sutton won their respective 10-kilometer open-water swim races in the pictur-esque waters off Copacabana Beach. Sutton won in two hours, 13 minutes, 47.6 seconds, holding off Brazil's charging Poliana Okimoto by half a stroke; Crippen followed with a 5.1-second victory. Says Crippen, "It's a great crowd, a great venue and a great start to the Games."
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Few Pan Am medalists were as grateful for their prize as U.S. weightlifter Melanie Roach (right), who won a bronze in the 53-kg class on Sunday. She hoisted 182 kg in the two lifts combined, including 108 in the clean and jerk, her best total in nine years. After leaving the sport to start a family, the 32-year-old mother of three returned to lifting two years ago but was sidelined by back surgery in 2006. At the Pan Ams, Roach kept a photo of her children with her in the Riocentro warmup area as inspiration. "Everything ended here exactly as I wanted," says Roach, who won her seventh national overall title in May. "I was looking at that picture before I started. I am truly blessed."
ALL WET High-stepping triathletes were bested by Potts (inset); Sutton (below) won the open-water swim.
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ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES (SUTTON)
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ARMANDO FRANCA/AP (ROACH)