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Tokyo 2021 #1YearToGo

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Monday, 06 July 2020 21:57

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It rained on Rio 2016’s final parade in the Maracanã tonight. The elements drove in, just as a perfect storm of economic and political crises has buffeted the high hopes of those who danced in delight as they were awarded the Games of the XXI Olympiad seven years ago at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Copenhagen.

Rio partied on through, doing its best in the difficult circumstances.

Down the years, one of the more tiresome Olympic traditions has been the escalating rhetoric involved with successive Games.

Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney…each one, according to the then IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, was “the greatest ever”.

Or nearly. Not even Samaranch could describe Atlanta 1996, with its over-commercialisation, transport problems and, pre-eminently, the bombing which claimed one life and left more than 100 people injured, as the best.

In the hours leading up to the 1996 Closing Ceremony, many-tongued rumour flew through the city speculating over what Samaranch would say.

A caller to a local radio talk show suggested that those attending the Closing Ceremony chant ``Best ever! Best ever!'' as Samaranch spoke.

Thankfully that didn't happen. Samaranch settled upon what he considered to be the mot juste: ``exceptional''.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution promptly characterised his remarks as ``the ultimate slap on the wrist, with half the planet watching.''

Twenty years on, a similarly vexed Games, a similar mix of logistical failings and outstanding performances in the field of competition, steadied itself for the judgement that would handed down upon it by the latest incumbent of that majestic IOC position, Thomas Bach.

The IOC President had loosened up with a scintillating display of flag waving as he transferred the Olympic banner from Rio’s Mayor, Eduardo Paes, to Yuriko Koike, Governor of the next Summer Olympic host city Tokyo.

Not a high tariff of difficulty, but beautifully executed.

The build-up to the judgement was tantalising.

After a speech from the President of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, Carlos Nuzman that matched the emotion of his Opening Ceremony address – was it the wind that agitated the stapled papers bearing his words, or his own shaking hands? – the moment came.

Nuzman introduced the IOC President. Bach moved to the podium, rehearsing his first phrase in Portuguese, and then suddenly wild man Nuzman was back on the microphone, high on Olympism, re-introducing his "good friend" Thomas Bach, "a friend to Brazil!"

Rio held its breath. Neymar Jr comes to the penalty spot. The IOC President steps up to the podium…and you wondered about his mental processes as he had rehearsed the possibilities…

“These have been the Olympic Games.”

No. Too obvious.

“These have been a very nice Olympics.”

Needs more bite.

Hang on. Hang on. How was it Nuzman just signed off? Think, man, think!

"We have organised a marvellous Olympics in a marvellous city."

Perfect. Use that.

“These were marvellous Olympic Games,” Bach announced. “History will talk about Rio de Janeiro before and a much better Rio de Janeiro after the Olympic Games..."

Do these Games leave Rio a better city? There is infrastructure, to be sure - stadiums and highways, a metro line.

Will the memories be warm?

Certainly the memories will be long of the Brazilian golds achieved here. Thiago Da Silva pole vaulting 10 centimetres over his personal best to take gold away from the French world record holder Renaud Lavillenie. The men’s team taking volleyball gold with a final victory over Italy.

But the height of Rio excitement came, predictably, when the Brazilian men’s football team earned a penalty shoot-out victory over Germany - the nation that had humiliated Brazil 7- 1 in the semi-final of the 2014 World Cup finals held on their own soil.

I was in the Olympic Stadium when the decisive penalties were saved and scored, buying a drink at one of the outlets. Customers and staff alike suspended activities to watch the denouement on a mobile phone screen held up by one of the girls behind the counter.

The Brazilian keeper plunged onto the ball. Neymar disdainfully drove his shot home into history.

The noise was ear-splitting, and behind us, as the Christmas tree lights of the favelas began to shine in the dusk, the city was rent with sporadic and accelerating fireworks. (I think it was fireworks).

Nothing could match that explosive excitement - but tonight the organisers of the Closing Ceremony strove to replicate it as best they could given the huge budgetary cuts that had been imposed upon them in the prevailing economic circumstances.

After an initial burst of fireworks around the rim of the stadium, the Rio 2016 Closing Ceremony followed in the template of the Opening Ceremony by creating a spectacle with lots of youthful activity and artful lighting effects. Multum in parvo - and very effective too.

The athletes, all mobile excitement, circled the central arena, surrounded by banks of empty white chairs for which they were eventually heading. It was like a very slow, colourful version of musical chairs...

And so it went on, in time-honoured, slightly ragged fashion.

All Closing Ceremonies have something in common. However much noise, colour, light and energy is entailed, they are at heart sad. They are about something ending.

But as the Rio 2016 Games come to an end, the city is entitled to let out a marvellous sigh of relief.