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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

South, North Korea agree to form joint Olympic team, march together

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South Korea said the rival Koreas agreed to form their first joint Olympic team and have their athletes march together during the PyeongChang Olympic Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said the Koreas reached the agreement during talks Wednesday at the border village of Panmunjom.

It said athletes from the two Koreas will march together under a “unification flag” depicting their peninsula during the Opening Ceremony and will field a single women’s hockey team.

The measures require approval by the International Olympic Committee. The South Korean ministry says the two Koreas will consult with the IOC this weekend.

The two Koreas marched together behind a unification flag at the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

North Korea boycotted the previous Olympics held in South Korea, the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988.

North Korea has no qualified athletes for the PyeongChang Olympics, but the IOC can invite athletes and could do so after this weekend’s meeting.

A pairs figure skating team qualified an Olympic quota spot for North Korea last fall, but the spot was given up after North Korea’s Olympic Committee did not accept the spot before a deadline.

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Larry Nassar hears testimony at sentencing: ‘You are a repulsive liar’

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — One after one, gymnasts and other victims of a disgraced former sports doctor stepped forward in a Michigan courtroom Tuesday to recount the sexual abuse and emotional trauma Larry Nassar inflicted on them as children — one with the warning that “little girls don’t stay little forever.”

Nearly 100 women and girls planned to speak or have their statements read during an extraordinary four-day sentencing hearing.

Many of them cried as they gave the initial testimonies Tuesday.

Some requested that their identities not be made public. The judge consoled the victims and said they should not blame themselves.

“I testified to let the world know that you are a repulsive liar,” one victim, Kyle Stephens, said to the 54-year-old Nassar who bowed his head with his eyes closed or looked away as she and others spoke.

Stephens, the first to speak, said Nassar repeatedly abused her from age 6 until age 12 during family visits to his home in Holt, near Lansing.

She said he rubbed his genitals on her and digitally penetrated her, among other things. She said Nassar later denied it, and her parents believed him.

“Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever,” Stephens said. “They grow into strong women that … destroy your world.”

Nassar has pleaded guilty to molesting females with his hands at his Michigan State University office, his home and a Lansing-area gymnastics club.

He also worked for Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians.

Another statement came from Donna Markham, who told of how her daughter Chelsey killed herself in 2009, years after Nassar sexually abused her during a medical examination.

“It all started with him,” she said, describing her daughter’s downward spiral into drug abuse.

Victims described experiencing “searing pain” during the assaults and having feelings of shame and embarrassment.

They said it had changed their life trajectories — affecting relationships, causing them to be distrustful and leading to depression, suicidal thoughts and anger and anxiety on whether they should have spoken up sooner.

“He touched the most innocent places on my body,” said 17-year-old Jessica Thomashaw, recounting how she was sexually assaulted at ages 9 and 12. “I couldn’t be just a normal girl anymore, and I forever lost a big piece of my childhood due to his abuse.”

Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who is expected to order a sentence Friday, said the system had failed them.

“You shouldn’t be angry with yourself,” she told a 31-year-old victim, who said she was assaulted almost 20 years ago. “You went to him for pain and healing, and you didn’t know. No one faults you or any other victim for that. You were a child.”

The Michigan attorney general’s office is seeking 40 to 125 years in prison for the 54-year-old Nassar.

The maximum represents a year for each of the 125 girls and women who filed reports of abuse with campus police. He already has been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography crimes.

Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles on Monday said she was among the athletes sexually abused by Nassar.

Another gold medalist, Aly Raisman, tweeted Monday that she would not attend the sentencing “because it is too traumatic for me. My impact letter will be read in court in front of Nassar. I support the brave survivors. We are all in this together.”

Olympians McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas also have said they were among Nassar’s victims as teens.

In November, he admitted to digitally penetrating 10 girls, mostly under the guise of treatment, between 1998 and 2015.

As part of plea deals in two adjacent Michigan counties, he said his conduct had no legitimate medical purpose and that he did not have the girls’ consent.

Nassar is scheduled to be sentenced in Eaton County in two weeks.