And so, the Olympics have come to an end. As someone who has such passionate memories of Rio, I was excited, and scared, as the games approached. Zika, water pollution, a bike path swept out to sea, a virtual coup, a deep recession: what else could go wrong for Rio?
But in the event the games were neither a disaster, nor – from my perspective – a triumph. The opening and closing ceremonies struck me as a little bland – in this least bland of cities. Of course, they were implemented on a much tighter budget than at other recent Olympics but with the incredible richness and breadth of Brazilian culture, it all seemed a bit anaemic. A bit obvious. I have to say that I was disappointed. Giselle Budchen walking to the “Girl from Ipanema” – really?
So what had I expected? I had visions of Carmen Miranda and the legend of Iracema, great black leaders like the Zumbi of Palmares, the Salvador Muslim slave revolts and Chico Rei, the slave who became a quasi-African king. What of capoeira and candomble? The great national myths – the revolutions of Tiradentes, the teeth puller, and the rebels of the sertao badlands in the Northeast? I had imagined riotously costumed interpetations of the Amazonian folklore of the jungle peoples: the bumba meu boi, boto dolphin spirits, the minhacao and mula sem cabeca, as well as tributes to the literature of Machado de Assis, the Theatre of the Oppressed. This had been a great opportunity to recast Brazil in its own imagination as a multiracial, but black, country, a “new” Brazil. I had prayed for Caetano Veloso to kick off proceedings, spotlit on a stool singing his progressive anthem “Tropicalia”…. but perhaps that was always naive. These things don’t necessarily “sell” to a worldwide audience. After all, Caetano was there but it was barely noted in the world media. Perhaps what they really needed was Jennifer Lopez?
The games themselves were engaging. The Brits made it rain gold and silver, China and Australia sank and bickered over the swimming and the Chinese team provided a great charmer in Fu Yuanhui and a love-to-hate villain in Sun Yang. Singapore scored a gold, and Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps secured their legacies. And then, in a final pleasing touch, the Brazilians faced their football nemesis, Germany, and finally triumphed at Maracana.
But now that it is over, was it worth it? Guanabana Bay didn’t get cleaned up. The promised new subway lines opened – just in time – but the fighting in the favelas goes on and the Rio taxpayers are left to foot a hefty bill. For a city that is used to throwing such amazing parties, this had all felt a little…forgettable.The fact that the highlight of the closing ceremony was Tokyo’s presentation for 2020 said it all.