Rio: Let the games begin

The Christ the Redeemer statue stands above Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Photo / AP
The Christ the Redeemer statue stands above Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Photo / AP

No Olympics in modern times has begun to a more negative backdrop than the Rio Games.

Consider the range of issues the city has had to face, and still is facing - the Zika virus; graft in the handling of infrastructure projects; a president hurtling towards impeachment over manipulated government accounts; police threatening strike action; the rise in both violent and petty crime; transport snafus, water pollution, which is no better, judging by recent evidence, than it was a year ago; the athletes' village missing useful items such as shower curtains, mattresses, light fittings, wiring and taps. So some way short of spick and span.

Then there's the Russian drug scandal. The last item is not of the Rio organisers' making but really not what they needed on the eve of the Games where they're already battling significant image issues.

Since teams have been arriving, there has been the inevitable, cheerleading noises from those on the ground, other than the griping Aussies. Everything's fine, what's the fuss about etc etc.

Let's wait and see how things unfold. But what about the actual competition?

The opening ceremony is tomorrow morning, but the Games have already begun, New Zealand's Football Ferns losing their first pool game to world No 1 the United States 2-0 yesterday.

New Zealand has a pile of potential medal winners, with single sculling defending Olympic champion Mahe Drysdale first in action after the opening ceremony, late on Saturday night (NZT).

And here lies the big question in New Zealand minds: how many medals might the country win? They won 13 at London four years ago, six of them gold. Every four years expectations grow as the great event arrives. Speculation can get wildly out of whack, as if improved performances in the months leading up might somehow automatically promote athletes on to a dais.

Government funding agency High Performance Sport New Zealand has projected 14 medals as its target, a timid call after the London numbers.

Dutch-based Gracenote, which boasts of having the world's largest sports data base of results, claimed months ago New Zealand would win 23 medals, including 11 gold. They downsized that golden number to seven on its virtual table in their most recent monthly update, but bumped the overall haul to 25.

A Herald analysis this week suggests just over 30 athletes, or teams, are capable of winning medals - as distinct from "will" win medals. So let's settle on about 20 altogether and nine gold.

Expect the big medal winners to be rowing, building on their five of 2012. Sailing, cycling, kayaker Lisa Carrington, sevens, golfer Lydia Ko and high profile athletes like Valerie Adams and Tom Walsh should make contributions.

HPSNZ has invested $175 million into the four-year Olympic cycle, the aim being to lead to "international prestige for the nation, [to] inspire the nation and importantly [to lead to] an increase in participation among the masses". New Zealand rejoices in success stories. Expect there to be a good number out of Rio.

- NZ Herald

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