Olympics blog: why I take the stairs at the Rio Games

In Rio de Janeiro, I’m taking the stairs.

Firstly, when working at major sporting events, there is scant opportunity to actually do any exercise, so you have to grab anything you can. However this is mainly because I’ve been in the lift in the media accommodation village. Once was enough.

The numbers don’t correspond to the floors, bits of plastic wrapping hang out of corners, and when it moves it sounds as if it has been lubricated with a tube of Smarties. It’s probably fine, but being stuck in a lift is not how I want my Rio 2016 Olympic Games experience to end up.

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Much has been made of Rio’s shambolic build up to the Games. Arriving in Brazil, you don’t have to look very hard to see it.

I soon discovered that there’s more of that builder’s plastic hanging around, including inside the lock to my room, providing an unusually innovative approach to security amidst reports of teams suffering thefts from the athlete village.

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The plumbing is a little suspect, but on the other hand at least that delays the sewage on its merry, untreated way to the beaches, lagoons and waterways that are home to many of the Olympic events, not to mention the living environment for millions of Rio’s inhabitants.

Many venues have only just been finished, and many more have been cobbled together with temporary solutions. If anyone invested in shares in Brazilian marquee or scaffolding companies before the Games, they’re undoubtedly quids in now.

There are vast edifices of metal poles surrounding the Olympic Park in order to bear pedestrians over multi-lane motorways from the newly built bus and metro stations to the competition venues.

Huge scaffolding walkways have been put in place for spectators at the Rio Olympic Games

Huge scaffolding walkways have been put in place for spectators at the Rio Olympic Games

Despite the faceless shopping malls and automotive strips around the Barra Olympic Park west of the Rio city centre that really could be anywhere in the western world, there’s a unique feel to this event.

Young men do keepy-uppies at traffic lights to earn people’s spare change – as you would expect in the country of Pele, Ronaldo and the most successful football team in history. Boys fly kites among the rooftop bricks and water tanks of Rio’s famous favelas, gazing down on the Maracana as the sun sets in the warm orange sky.

Traffic and transportation is a nightmare. Many riders almost missed the start of the road races due to congestion and late running buses. There are chronic shortages of staff at security checks and facilities. Queuing – or hanging around in a vague, multinational order to slowly move somewhere else – is fast becoming a new Olympic discipline.

Some of it is a bit more sinister. A controlled explosion was used to dispose of a suspicious small bag at the finish line of the men’s road race – I wondered what that bang was – and a military grade bullet landed not far from my colleagues from Horse & Hound magazine in the equestrian event press tent.

There were also reports of a Russian diplomat turning the tables on a would-be armed robber near the Olympic Park and shooting him dead – reports which Russian officials denied.

But then you only have to look at the start and finish of the road race on Copacabana beach, or the spectacle of nearly 90,000 people gathered in the bowl of the Maracana football stadium to celebrate the opening ceremony, and you realise that Rio is a special place to be.

The shadow of doping and local protests lingers over a Games already blighted by economic depression, disorganisation, disease, and disaffection. Police used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse thousands outside the opening ceremony expressing their disdain for the Olympics when millions in the city go without access to decent sanitation, healthcare and education.

But people are friendly, the sun is shining and, so far, the organisers are keeping it all together. Just. With the eyes of the world on Rio for two weeks, they, the athletes, and indeed most of Brazil will just be keeping their fingers crossed that everything keeps going as planned.

Meanwhile, I will still keep taking the stairs.