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Will Rio de Janeiro be ready for the 2016 Olympics?

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Brazil just hosted the biggest sporting event in its history, a largely successful World Cup following a lead-up of fears over protests, delayed construction and transportation madness.

The first Olympics in South America, which will open in Rio de Janeiro two years from today, pose an even greater challenge.

Nearly 11,000 athletes (14 times as many as the World Cup) from more than 200 countries compete in 28 sports crammed into 16 days of medal competition (half the length of the World Cup). That scale and complexity also carries an estimated $20 billion price tag, several billion more than spent on the World Cup.

The weight falls on not the entire country, but mostly on a city nicknamed Cidade Maravilhosa.

Will the Marvelous City be ready?

International Olympic Committee officials gained reassurance from the World Cup.

“We are very happy that many of the concerns which were mentioned before this World Cup did not turn into reality,” IOC president Thomas Bach said before his nation, Germany, won the World Cup final at Rio’s Maracanã Stadium, which will hold the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and soccer finals in 2016. “We can really see that there is a great dynamism in their preparations.”

Bach also stressed that organizers must stay vigilant and dedicated.

That encouraging/mindful dichotomy runs through officials’ comments since the spring, when the IOC organized a special task force following problems such as construction delays, a workers’ strike and communication issues between Brazilian government and organizers.

Two years out: Rio’s readiness | Storylines: Swimming | Track and Field | Gymnastics | More Sports

Gilbert Felli, the IOC executive director for the Olympic Games, flew to Rio several months earlier than expected to oversee the acceleration of preparations.

In July, three months after being dispatched, Felli said he expected most projects back on schedule by September. He also described some deadlines as “very tense” in an Associated Press interview.

Specific tasks include the construction of the Deodoro Complex, one of four clusters of venues and that Felli said was two years behind schedule in May.

Rio mayor Eduardo Paes said Monday that 55 percent of the Olympic facilities are ready or need adjustments, according to the city’s prominent newspaper, O Globo. For comparison, Paes showed media a picture of what London’s Olympic Stadium looked like two years before the 2012 Games. It was a construction site.

Guanabara Bay, the sailing venue, is polluted, though the worst of the reported water conditions are not in competition areas, according to US Sailing. Authorities have acknowledged they won’t be able to meet a vow of cutting the pollution by 80 percent (50 percent is the new goal).

The course construction for the first Olympic golf tournaments since 1904 was also delayed, but work sped up in recent months. All of the grass is expected to be planted by the end of 2014. A test event is scheduled for August 2015.

There has also been concern over the completion of transportation between clusters and a shortage of hotel rooms.

The IOC will receive another official progress report in September.

Paes said Monday that Rio’s concerns actually helped the city win the IOC vote over Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo back in 2009.

The next two years, and the last five years, are not a burden but an opportunity for the city to prove its mettle as a bellwether for expanding the Olympics to new areas.

“The time has come for the Brazilian people to deliver something on time, on budget, with full transparency,” said Sidney Levy, Rio 2016 CEO, according to Bloomberg.

Laurie Hernandez eyes return to competition in 2018

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NEW YORK – Laurie Hernandez hardly considers her 14 months away from competitive gymnastics a break.

Since earning Olympic team gold and balance beam silver in Rio, the 17-year-old won “Dancing with the Stars,” authored a book and even enrolled in ballet lessons.

But her most rewarding experience has been speaking at schools. Students have asked her seemingly every question, from when she started taking gymnastics classes (age 5) to whether she climbed trees when she was younger (yes, all the time).

Seeing how many children were inspired by her Rio performance motivated Hernandez as she prepares to return to the sport.

“I didn’t realize at the Olympics how many people were truly watching,” Hernandez said Wednesday night at the annual Women’s Sports Foundation Salute to Women in Sports. “Now I’m excited to get back into the gym.”

Hernandez recently added handstand holds, back tucks and front flips to her conditioning program, in addition to continuing to run and lift weights.

“It’s a little difficult, but it’s fine,” she said. “I’ll push it a little more after the holidays.”

She has her eye on returning to competition in 2018.

“That’s definitely the hope,” Hernandez said. “I’m not going to rush anything, but I would love to compete in 2018.”

Hernandez, who said her next goal in gymnastics is to compete at the world championships for the first time and hopefully the 2020 Olympics, has not yet identified her comeback meet.

She noted that Aly Raisman took more than two years off after the London Olympics.

“I know every athlete is different,” Hernandez said. “But I wouldn’t mind following in her footsteps.”

Simone Biles, who has not competed since winning four gold medals in Rio, recently announced that she plans on returning to full-time training Nov. 1 and competition next summer.

“I look up to her, even though we are teammates,” Hernandez said. “I can’t wait to see her out there, but hopefully I’ll be out there with her soon.”

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MORE: Laurie Hernandez explains wink, nervous Olympic moments in book excerpt

Olympic cycling champion running for Congress

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Olympic cycling gold medalist Marty Nothstein is the latest to announce he’s running for the eastern Pennsylvania congressional seat being vacated by fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Dent.

Dent, a former state senator, is a centrist Republican who has held the seat since 2005. He’s retiring after his term expires next year.

Nothstein, who won sprint silver in 1996 and gold in 2000, is the only American track cyclist to win an Olympic title at a fully attended Games.

Two Republican state representatives, Ryan Mackenzie and Justin Simmons, previously announced they’re running for Dent’s 15th District seat.

Democrat Bill Leiner, a former Lehigh County commissioner, is also running.

Dent’s district includes Allentown and all of Lehigh County, and parts of four surrounding counties.

Republicans in 2011 stretched the district almost 90 miles to the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania to make it more Republican.

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