A Farewell From Rio, Where The 2016 Games Are Set To Wrap Up

Aug 21, 2016
Originally published on August 21, 2016 2:48 pm
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FARAI CHIDEYA, HOST:

It's the last day of the Olympics. Tonight's closing ceremonies will put a wrap on more than two weeks of athletic competition and some off-field adventures. We're going to spend a few minutes looking back at the Rio Games, starting with NPR's Melissa Block.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Greece.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: It kicked off with an explosion of spangles and samba in opening ceremonies at Rio's Maracana Stadium, the first Olympic Games ever to be held in South America. And the competition was on.

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COMPUTERIZED VOICE: Take your marks.

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BLOCK: In swimming, the U.S. far out-stroked its rivals, winning 33 medals in all. Michael Phelps, who competed in his first Olympics at age 15, has said this, his fifth, would be his last. He was already the most decorated Olympic athlete even before Rio, and he added six more medals to his collection.

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MICHAEL PHELPS: This all started and began with one little dream as a kid, to change the sport of swimming and to try to do something nobody else has ever done. And it turned out pretty cool.

BLOCK: Also in swimming, we saw Katie Ledecky shatter her own world record in the 800-meter freestyle and rack up medals in every race she swam. And we saw Simone Manuel become the first African-American woman to win gold in an individual swimming event.

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BLOCK: In gymnastics, the U.S. women's team dominated as predicted. Simone Biles led a team that won gold, dazzling with superhuman acrobatics.

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BLOCK: On the track, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt struck his famous lightning pose and proclaimed, I am the greatest. And he proved it by winning three gold medals in three races in each of three Olympics culminating here in Rio. Like Phelps, he says he's done.

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USAIN BOLT: I have proven to the world that I'm the greatest in this sport, so for me it's just mission accomplished, pretty much.

BLOCK: A number of countries rejoiced in their first-ever Olympic medals, from Fiji to Bahrain to Vietnam. But for all the podium moments of glory, there were thousands more athletes who struggled through and came up short, like Le Roux Hamman of South Africa, who trained for six years and came in next to last in his heat - in the 400-meter hurdles.

LE ROUX HAMMAN: My Olympics are done, and my season is done as well. Now I can rest and eat a lot.

BLOCK: What do you want to eat?

HAMMAN: Doughnuts (laughter).

BLOCK: Doughnuts?

HAMMAN: Doughnuts and coffee and cookies and cake and oh.

BLOCK: So after tonight, when the athletes go home and the venues fall empty, what's left for Rio? Some of those venues will be torn down. The athletes' village will be turned into luxury condos. There's a new subway line and highway, which mostly benefit the wealthy sector of Rio. And the promise to clean up Rio's notoriously polluted waterways has not been kept.

Hosting the Olympics has been a hugely expensive venture for a country in economic crisis. I asked Pedro Trengrouse to assess the Olympic legacy. He's a professor of sports management at the Rio think tank Fundacao Getulio Vargas. Despite all the criticism and fears ahead of time that Rio wouldn't be able to pull the games off, he says his city proved the doubters wrong.

PEDRO TRENGROUSE: As Bill Clinton was the comeback kid, I believe Rio made a huge comeback.

BLOCK: And, he says, people shouldn't expect too much from these mega events.

TRENGROUSE: When the propaganda conveys the message that the Olympic Games will change your life, will change your city because it's simply not true. The Olympic Games, the World Cup, all these events, they are parties. Big parties, but just parties.

BLOCK: And if anyone knows how to throw a party, it's Rio. In Rio, I'm Melissa Block, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.