The Olympics started with a special opening ceremony in Maracanã Stadium in Rio on August 5. During the Parade of Nations, each country’s athletes marched into the stadium, proudly wearing their country’s Olympic uniform. At the end of the event, the Olympic flame was lit to signal that the Games had officially begun.
“The ceremony is the ultimate opportunity for a host country to tell their story,” says NBC Sports television producer Joe Gesue, who’s heading up television coverage of the Games. “The show is a mix of history, culture, energy, and people.” Brazil is the first South American nation to host the Olympics. It’s a big honor for the country—and also a big challenge.
IS RIO READY?
A city hosting the Olympics has to provide places to stay and transportation for thousands of athletes and visitors. More than $14 billion has been spent preparing Rio for the Games. Many people feel that the money would have been better spent on improving living conditions in Brazil, where poverty and crime are big problems. But others say the money from tourism during and after the Olympics will help Brazil overcome some of its troubles.
Government officials also promised to clean up Rio’s polluted waterways, build new arenas, and improve public transportation before the Olympics. But the country has come under a lot of criticism for falling short of these promises. One big problem that remains is the contaminated (containing harmful substances) waterways in which some athletes will compete. Olympic rowers and swimmers have been advised to keep their mouths closed in the water so that they don’t get sick.
GOING FOR THE GOLD
Despite these issues, the Games have already gotten off to a good start. Swimmer Michael Phelps has won three gold medals at the 2016 Olympics so far—bringing his total Olympic medals to 25—more than any other athlete in history. Other U.S. athletes hope to strike gold once again, as well. After winning the gold medal in 2004 and a bronze in 2012, U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin will once again face defending champion Usain Bolt of Jamaica in the 100-meter race.
Other U.S. athletes to watch include the members of the women’s soccer team. They won the gold medal at the last three Olympics—and hope to win another in Rio. Also, keep an eye out for 19-year-old gymnast Simone Biles, competing in her first Olympics. She already picked up her first gold medal. Freestyle swimmer Katie Ledecky, also 19, is attending her second Games and has so far one two gold medals. “One of the great things about the Olympics is you see teenagers who will become big-time stars,” says Gesue.
The Summer Olympics happen only once every four years, so there’s a lot at stake for the competitors. “Many of these athletes dedicated their lives for one chance to go to the Olympics,” says Gesue. “Think about the journeys they took to get to that moment. “There’s nothing else like it!”