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17 June 2016

The Road To Rio 2016

The 28th Summer Olympic Games begins on August 5th 2016 and will take place in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Throughout its long and storied history, the Games have predominantly taken place in Europe and North America. Since the very first Games in Athens in 1896, to the most recent in London four years ago, only on a handful of occasions have cities in Asia and Australia been selected as hosts.

So, for this year’s event to be held in South America for the first time is both a landmark occasion and a welcome departure from the norm. Athletes and sportspeople from 207 nations across the globe will descend on Brazil’s second largest city for a fortnight of intense and gruelling competition as they aim to prove themselves to be the very best at their chosen discipline. For many, the Games will be the very pinnacle of their sporting careers.

 Ibrahim Mustapha is a multimedia journalist having covered news, sport and the BBC since 2008. He also writes his own football blog: www.elevenmanteam.com 

Banner Image Credit: iStock.com/microgen

Based in Brazil’s southeast, making up part of the country’s Atlantic coast, Rio is perhaps Brazil’s most well known city. Famed for it’s vast sandy beaches, the city also hosts the glamorous and flamboyant carnivals known the world over. The city’s skyline is dominated by the enormous Corcovado mountain; on top of which sits the towering and iconic Christ the Redeemer statue.

Colorful buildings in Santa Marta Faevela in Rio

Image Credit: iStock.com/SerengetiLion

From a sporting perspective, Rio, like most of Brazil, is football crazy. The city is home to eight clubs, including the five time Brazilian league champions Flamengo. The world famous Maracana stadium has hosted two World Cup finals, including the most recent in 2014 when Germany narrowly beat Argentina 1-0 in extra time to win the biggest prize in the international game.

Away from football, other popular sports in Rio unsurprisingly include beach volleyball and water based sports such as surfing and bodyboarding. The city is also no stranger to putting on multi-sport events as it hosted the 2007 Pan American Games – the success of which possibly impacting the ultimately successful bid two years later for this summer’s Olympic Games.

Rio will see 306 events across 28 sports – including rugby union and golf, both making their Olympic debuts – taking place across four concentrated ‘zones’ of venues and arenas in the City; Barra da Tijuca, Deodoro, Maracana, and Copacabana Beach.

The Maracana Stadium in Rio

Image Credit: iStock.com/world2media

The majority of events will take place in Barra da Tijuca in the western area of the city. This ultra-modern beachside district is an attractive spot for both the affluent resident or wide-eyed tourist. It is probably fitting that the Olympic Village, where the athletes will stay, is housed in the zone. A number of newly built venues will also be located here including aquatics and tennis centres, the velodrome and golf course. There will be special arenas for events such as basketball, handball, gymnastics, boxing, table tennis, badminton, judo, wrestling and weightlifting among others.

North of Barra is the neighbourhood of Deodoro. Like Barra, the region has seen a number of new venues built for the Games. This new Olympic Park will be home to the BMX, mountain bike and hockey centres. There will also be an arena for basketball and fencing, and the whitewater centre for canoe slalom. The temporary stadium erected on the site of the existing polo field will host rugby, equestrian and the combined running and shooting events of the Modern Pentathlon.

The Maracana zone will of course contain the above-mentioned stadium. This is where both opening and closing ceremonies will be held as well as some football matches. Athletics will take place in the nearby Joao Havelange Stadium. Interestingly, this will be first Olympic Games in over a century where athletics will not take place in the same arena as the ceremonies. The district will also host volleyball, water polo and archery.

Finally, the Copacabana zone – home to arguably the most famous beach in the world. If one was to pick a place to stay during the Games, one of the many hotels along the two and half mile stretch overlooking the Atlantic ocean wouldn’t be a bad shout. The beautiful beachfront location will be home to the triathlon, rowing, open-water swimming, and of course, beach volleyball – a sport Rio has a special relationship with. Despite holding the first official world championships in Los Angeles in 1997, the FIVB – volleyball’s governing body – held tournaments in Rio every year before that dating back to 1987, leaving some to perhaps argue that this year’s Olympics will see the sport returning to its spiritual home.

The amazing Copacabana Beach

Image Credit: iStock.com/Ekaterina Belova

Away from the main venues in Rio, some Olympic football matches will be played in other cities around the country – making use of the stadiums built and renovated specially for the 2014 World Cup. Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, the Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, The Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha in Brasilia and Arena da Amazonia in Manaus will be popular with both locals as well as those visiting the country for the Games curious to explore other parts of the country away from the host city.

The Paralympic Games takes place the following month utilising many of the same venues in the four districts with necessary modifications for Paralympic events.

Ahead of the start of the Games is the traditional Olympic torch relay. The symbolic flame began its journey in Athens on April 21st and arrived in Brazil on May 3rd. After travelling the length of the country, the 95 day trip will reach its conclusion when the torch is brought into the Maracana for the opening ceremony.

The stunning setting of Rio will provide a fitting environment for the world’s biggest sporting showcase. Brazil isn’t a country that struggles when it comes to promoting sport but with these Olympic Games coming so soon after the football World Cup, there is an opportunity to leave a true sporting legacy for years to come. If the development and regeneration plans are managed correctly after the Games, the long term future in the city and country should be in good health.

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