For 17 days in August 2016 the outstretched arms of the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro will be welcoming visitors to the summer Olympic Games, and again in September to the Paralympics.
During this heady period some of the world’s most iconic sights will be seen from a different perspective: the the Maracanã stadium, the sambodromo and Copacabana beach all hosting events. Indeed, the scenic backdrop of many of the events will surely be one of the most attractive of any of the Olympic cities in recent times.
Brazilians love any excuse for a party and they will be sure to put on a dazzling show. Their enthusiasm for sport – especially for football and volleyball – is also unequalled and cariocas and others from all over Brazil will flock to support the events. Over a quarter of a million people have applied for the 70,000 positions as Volunteers whose job it will be to help visitors find their way around and to feel welcome in this oh-so-friendly city.
There are four main areas where competitions and other events will take place. (Note that some of the venues have been changed from the original plan and this revision may continue, so the information below is not definitive).
The best known is the beach strip of Copacabana, venue for beach volleyball with the Sugar Loaf Mountain on the skyline, the start of the Marathon, marathon swimming and the triathlon and the start and end of the cycling road races... Anyone lucky enough to get a room in one of the many hotels here will find these events just steps away. A short hop from Copacabana en route to the city centre is the marina at Glória, venue for the sailing events, as is the picturesque lagoon behind the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon, where rowing and canoeing will be taking place.
Equally the world-famous Maracanã stadium (where Germany defeated Argentina to become world champions in the 2014 FIFA World Cup) in an otherwise unremarkable suburb in the north of the city will host the opening and closing ceremonies. Although it is a principally a football stadium – and was revamped for the World Cup – there’s an illustrious history of spectacular shows here hosting performers from Frank Sinatra to Kiss. Its smaller cousin, the Maracanãzinho, is an indoor venue close by once famed for embracing the Miss Brazil pageants in the 1960s but will now be welcoming sportier representatives from the world of volleyball. It’s been a rocky road to the Olympics for the Engenão Stadium – also confusingly known as the Olympic Stadium – which hosted events of the 2007 Panamerican Games but is generally used for football matches, and is the home of Botafogo Football Club. The venue was closed for safety reasons during refurbishment in 2013 but should be up and running to host track and field events for the 2016 games.
The leafy middle-class residential inland district of Deodoro, 30km from the city centre (a new fast road will link it with the Olympic centre at Barra, see below), will feature outdoor events such as the rugby sevens, a sport which is returning to the Olympics portfolio for the first time in decades. This is the place to be for spectators keen to enjoy mountain biking, BMX, rafting, hockey, shooting and white-water canoeing.
The hub of activity however will be centred on the rapidly expanding west zone, Barra da Tijuca. This 21km-long stretch of golden sand was until 40 years ago a sandbar backed by uninhabited, inhospitable swamps and lagoons. Following the construction of tunnels and a spectacular elevated road clinging to the rocky cliffs separating Barra from the rest of Rio it is now a rapidly expanding residential and commercial zone which is almost a city in its own right. With its boulevards, shopping malls and towering, self-contained “neighbourhood” condominiums it resembles Miami more than anywhere in Brazil but it is one of the richest zones of the city, and certainly one of the most dynamic. Here you’ll find the golf course, aquatic centre, velodrome, tennis courts, venues for ball games, martial arts, boxing, weightlifting and gymnastics.
As we at Journey Latin America know from the experience in London, taking on the mantle of being an Olympic city is a huge commitment and massive infrastructure projects have been conceived in order to facilitate both transport and accommodation. There will be 10,000 athletes attending the 306 medalled events in the 17 days of the Olympics schedule and yet more during the Paralympics. That’s before we begin to consider the number of visitors. Rio has its problems – not least in terms of traffic flow and road and underground networks which have not kept pace with the expansion of the city – but London had those too, and everything worked out alright in the end there. New roads and railways linking the four main areas of events will have a lasting impact on the city and future visitors, and the local community will ultimately benefit from the new accommodation in the Olympic Village and elsewhere. A lot of money has been spent and not all Brazilians approved of the investment, just as they didn’t of the capital outlay for the FIFA World Cup: but we are sure that when the Games begin, just as it did for football’s most prestigious competition the whole country will swing behind them with zeal and enthusiasm.
Check out the venue map in Rio de Janeiro.
See our Rio Olympics 2016 Frequently Asked Questions for more information.