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Rio stuck with big bills, vacant venues after Olympics

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio de Janeiro pulled off last year’s Olympics, keeping crime at bay and fending off dire forecasts of corruption, environmental degradation, and cost overruns.

Six months after South America’s first games, the flood gates have burst open.

Rio organizers still owe creditors about $40 million. Four of the new arenas in the main Olympic Park have failed to find private-sector management, and ownership has passed to the federal government. Another new arena will be run by the cash-strapped city with Brazil stuck in its deepest recession in decades.

The historic Maracana stadium, site of the opening and closing ceremony, has been vandalized as stadium operators, the Rio state government, and Olympic organizers have fought over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills. The electric utility reacted by cutting off all power to the city landmark.

There are few players for a new $20 million Olympic golf course, and little money for upkeep. Deodoro, the second-largest cluster of Olympic venues, is closed and searching for a management company.

The state of Rio de Janeiro is months late paying teachers, hospital workers, and pensions. The state also reports record-breaking crime in 2016 in almost all categories from homicides to robbery.

“During the Olympics, the city was really trying hard to keep things together,” said Oliver Stuenkel, a Brazilian who teaches international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a Brazilian university. “But the minute the Olympics were over, the whole thing disintegrated.”

BETTER IMAGE, OR WORSE?

The Olympics – and to a lesser extent the 2014 World Cup – showcased the reality of Rio, a city romanticized for its sprawling beaches, annual Carnival celebration, and sensual lifestyle.

It also exposed the city’s crime, environmental contamination, and corruption.

Some building projects connected to the Olympics and World Cup have been tied to a probe which has led to the jailing of dozens of politicians and businessmen for receiving kickbacks in Brazil’s largest corruption scandal.

Three politicians who were instrumental in landing and organizing the Olympics – former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, former Rio governor Sergio Cabral, and former Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes – have been under investigation. Cabral, an early promoter of the Olympics and World Cup, has been jailed on corruption charges.

“The Olympics gave people a better sense of the difficulties Brazil faces,” Stuenkel said. “Maybe not a better or worse image, but more rounded.”

UNPAID BILLS

Sidney Levy, the chief executive officer of the Rio organizing committee, tried to run the games with only private money, and almost succeeded. His $3 billion operating budget – the budget for running the games, not building the infrastructure – was frugal by Olympic standards. At the last minute, he had to ask for a 250-million-real bailout – $80 million – from the city of Rio and the federal government to run the Paralympics.

Eventually, he got only 100 million reals ($30 million), and the shortfall has left organizers owing creditors millions.

Today, Levy says he’s nearly a forgotten man.

“I could call the president of the country, and the call was taken,” Levy said. “But try it today. I could call the IOC and everybody. But now people have other things to handle. We are no longer a priority.”

Levy said organizers probably lost about $200 million in income during the run-up to the games as sponsors backed out of expensive deals as the recession kicked in.

Levy said he has not asked the IOC to help pay debts, but acknowledged the Olympic body came up with millions in advance money several times during the run-up to the games.

“The whole thing was too painful,” Levy told The Associated Press. “We never really enjoyed the games, themselves; 2016 was just extremely hard. It’s like we were climbing Everest, and ice is falling on your lips, and you are not seeing.”

WHITE ELEPHANTS

The Olympic Park is a ghost town; sleek sports arenas without events, deserted before they were even broken in, and well-tended flower gardens, free from pedestrian wear-and-tear.

“The arenas are beautiful,” Wagner Tolvai said, walking inside the park with his girlfriend Patricia Silva. “But it’s all abandoned, everything has stopped. Nobody is here.”

He likened the 2.5 billion real ($800 million) park to a new shopping mall “without stores, or customers.” The park is only open on weekends, and there’s not much to do but walk, pedal a bike, or look for shade.

Four permanent arenas are being run by the federal government. Among them is the Olympic tennis center, which was used earlier this month for a one-day beach volleyball tournament. This in a city with endless sand and beaches.

Two temporary venues for swimming and handball have yet to be dismantled. The exterior of the swimming venue is falling apart and many translucent tapestries that covered the outside of the building are frayed or falling to the ground.

The warm-up pool, which was covered during the games, is filled with muddy, stagnant water.

Away from the park, the famous Maracana stadium has drawn the most attention. It was renovated for the 2014 World Cup at a cost of about $500 million. It was largely abandoned after the Olympics and Paralympics, and then hit by vandals who ripped out thousands of seats and stole televisions.

“The Maracana is the biggest symbol of the way the games were managed,” said Mauricio Santoro, a political scientist at Rio de Janeiro State University. “The vast majority of people in Rio will never go to the golf course, or the Olympic venues. But the Maracana is different. It’s the jewel of the crown.”

Up the road from the Olympic Park, the $1 billion Athletes Village – it housed about 10,000 athletes – is fenced off and empty. The developer says it has sold only 260 of the 3,604 apartments – about 7 percent.

Rio’s Globo newspaper reported that new Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella is arranging low-cost loans for public employees to buy the units.

SUBWAY AND BUSES

Transportation projects driven by the Olympics look better than the sports venues.

The games led to a subway line extension, though at the reportedly inflated price of $3 billion. They also produced a high-speed bus network, a light-rail line, and a pedestrian-friendly, renovated port area. Rio’s international airport also got a makeover.

People using the new subway line have benefited, though city traffic is still badly snarled.

But many of the improvements benefit mostly the wealthy south and west of the city.

“The gains were unevenly spread across the city,” Stuenkel, the political scientist said.

TOKYO 2020 ADVICE

Levy, the CEO, said Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics will face completely different challenges.

“They have a society that works pretty well already,” he said. “They don’t have to prove anything to anybody.”

Tokyo will face higher costs than Rio, and organizers are already looking for places to cut.

Levy suggested reining in sports federations, which all want five-star treatment. He used an example from the equestrian events.

“They wanted 15 horse ambulances,” Levy said. “We offered nine. In the end, the right number was four. The magic of the games doesn’t come from these things.”

MORE: Wall of champions unveiled at Rio Olympic Park

Salt Lake City forms committee to weigh Olympic bid

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Salt Lake City has formed an exploratory committee to decide if the city will bid to host the Winter Olympics in either 2026 or 2030 — taking a key step toward trying to become a rare two-time host city.

The group made up of elected officials, business leaders and one key member of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City said Monday that it plans to make a recommendation to state leaders by Feb. 1.

The announcement comes after the U.S. Olympic Committee board said Friday that it was moving forward with discussions about bringing the Winter Games to America for either 2026 or 2030.

Because Los Angeles was recently awarded the 2028 Summer Games, a bid for 2030 would make more sense, chairman Larry Probst said Friday.

The USOC has until next March to pick a city; those expressing interest include Salt Lake City, Denver and Reno, Nevada.

Innsbruck, Austria, said Sunday it wouldn’t bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, taking one more city out of the running. The hosting rights are set to be awarded in July 2019.

The same country hasn’t hosted back-to-back Olympics since before World War II, though when the International Olympic Committee scrapped its traditional rules and awarded 2024 (Paris) and 2028 (LA) at the same time, it indicated it was certainly open to new ideas.

Since 2012, Salt Lake City has been letting Olympic officials know the city was ready and willing to host again with a plan based on renovating and upgrading venues that have been in use since the Games ended.

The city had previously estimated it could put on a Winter Olympics for about $2 billion, but the committee will come up with a new cost estimate, said Jeff Robbins, the president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission.

Robbins is one of three co-chairs on the committee along with Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and Fraser Bullock, a key player in Salt Lake City’s 2002 Olympics.

Robbins said he thinks the city has a great shot at winning a bid based on the relatively low cost and because it has demonstrated it knows how to maintain venues and keep them in use, putting the city in line with Agenda 2020, the blueprint that IOC President Thomas Bach created for future Olympics calling for less spending on new venues and infrastructure.

There’s an eight-lane interstate running from the Salt Lake airport, which was upgraded for the Olympics, to Park City, which is the home of U.S. Ski and Snowboard. Park City is the host for key U.S. training centers for freestyle skiing, speedskating and cross country skiing.

Overall, the area has hosted about 75 World Cup and world-championship events in winter sports since the Olympic cauldron was extinguished more than 15 years ago.

He said an expanded light rail train line grid around Salt Lake City and a $3 billion airport renovation already underway are two examples of how Salt Lake City is even better prepared now to host than in 2002.

But he and other organizers will also have to answer questions about a bidding scandal that marred the 2002 Games and resulted in several International Olympic Committee members losing their positions for taking bribes.

“You can’t control the past,” Robbins said. “The results of what happened I think would certainly speak volumes. While there was some challenges, we hosted arguably one of the best Olympics ever hosted.”

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Simone Biles announces new coach

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When Simone Biles begins her comeback in earnest next month, she’ll be training under a new coach — Laurent Landi — who coached one of her Olympic teammates, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Landi, a 39-year-old former French gymnast, guided Rio uneven bars silver medalist Madison Kocian at the Dallas-area gym WOGA, along with wife Cecile.

“[Landi] was in Dallas, which is not far away, and had recently left WOGA, and I had worked with alongside him and know how he is with athletes,” Biles said, according to the newspaper. “He does a good job not letting pressure get to the athletes. You can see some coaches get stressed but he doesn’t.”

Biles’ previous coach since she was 7, Aimee Boorman, left their Houston-area gym for a gymnastics job in Florida after the Rio Games.

Biles said last week she plans to return to full-time training Nov. 1 and return to competition next summer.

Kocian is now at UCLA and uncertain to return to elite gymnastics.

Two other Final Five members — Aly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez — have said they plan to return to training for a Tokyo 2020 run. But neither has announced a return to the gym like Biles.

The last member — 2012 Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas — has not said whether she will come back.

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