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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.

Claressa Shields congratulated by famous boxing actor (video)

Claressa Shields
Getty Images
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Claressa Shields may just be the most dominant female athlete on the planet. The Flint, Mich., native is now a two-time Olympic boxing champion with a 77-1 record and a four-year unbeaten streak.

Actor Mark Wahlberg, who played boxer Micky Ward in the 2010 film “The Fighter,” took notice.

He taped a video that Shields watched before a celebration in her hometown Thursday, according to the Flint Journal.

“You are the true definition of a champion,” Wahlberg said. “You continue to inspire so many people, not only in Flint, but all over the world. I’m so proud of you. Your performance was amazing. God bless you. I look forward to seeing you, and I look forward to doing lots of things with you.”

Now Shields must decide whether to turn professional, which would end her Olympic career.

“Professional women’s boxing is not nowhere near on the same attention level as the Olympics are,” the 21-year-old Shields said, according to the Flint Journal. “I get way more attention than any female boxer who is professional right now with me being an amateur.

“So the goal is to go professional but still have that same attention and same mainstream. Hopefully, if they have the rule changed that the women professionals can come back and fight the Olympics, I would go professional to fight on TV and make a bunch of money but then come back and defend my two gold medals in 2020.”

MORE: Shields becomes first U.S. fighter to win back-to-back golds

Russian Olympic medalists gifts include racehorse

Abdulrashid Sadulaev
AP
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MOSCOW (AP) — Luxury cars, apartments, even a racehorse — being an Olympic medalist in Russia can come with great material rewards but also controversy.

Under President Vladimir Putin, it’s become a tradition for Russia’s Olympic heroes to be showered with large cash sums and sometimes unwanted gifts.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after dozens of medalists were presented with BMW cars at the Kremlin by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, an advertisement appeared online offering one of them for sale, with photographs showing the car still covered in stickers celebrating Russia’s medal haul in Rio.

The advertisement offering the BMW X6 for 4.67 million rubles ($72,000) was anonymous and quickly withdrawn. It couldn’t be independently verified by The Associated Press, though Russian agency R-Sport claimed the seller was a Russian medalist who thought the car was too big and unwieldy.

Figure skater Maxim Trankov, who received a Mercedes-Benz SUV for his gold medal in 2014, said few Olympians could afford to own such cars.

“Has no one thought that these gift cars are not only liable for the tax on luxury items, but also aren’t cheap to run and earnings can’t cover it?” he wrote on Twitter. “I’d sell mine too if it came to it … Or does everyone think all sports pay as well as soccer, hockey or tennis?”

Gymnast Seda Tutkhalyan said she wouldn’t be able to drive her new BMW because at 17 years of age she was too young to have a license.

While online commenters mostly supported an athlete’s right to sell expensive Olympic gifts, many were critical of the government for a display of conspicuous consumption at the Kremlin at a time when Russia’s pension and healthcare systems are under financial strain.

It’s not fully clear how much the prizes have cost the Russian government.

State TV channel Rossiya 24 reported that the fleet of BMWs was provided by the Olympians’ Support Fund, which is backed by a group of Russia’s richest men, but that the accompanying cash prizes of tens of thousands of dollars per medalist came in part from the federal budget.

More awards are on offer from regional governments, many of which made public displays of generosity despite financial troubles of their own.

The Caucasus region of North Ossetia last month promised a free apartment for any medalists from the area, though it isn’t clear if this has happened yet.

In another grand gesture, the head of the restive Dagestan region gave Olympic wrestling champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev 6 million rubles ($93,000) in cash and a racehorse at a lavish welcoming ceremony featured on local TV.

Still, all may not be well for Sadulaev, who’s nicknamed the “Russian Tank” for his habit of crushing opponents on the wrestling mat. He’s already facing an allegation from a Moscow radio presenter of reckless driving in his eye-catching BMW.

MORE: Putin slams Russia’s Paralympic ban