Rio unveils largest athletes village in Olympic history

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The media got a sneak peak at the “soul” of the upcoming Rio de Janeiro Olympics with a visit Thursday to the athletes’ village, the brand new complex of residential towers where nearly 11,000 athletes and some 6,000 coaches and other handlers will sleep, eat and train during the upcoming games.

Local organizers said the complex, which they described as a “city within the city,” is the largest in Olympic history. In addition to the 31 17-story towers, the complex includes a massive cafeteria and gym, a post office, a first aid center and bank.

“This is where the soul of the games will develop,” said Mario Andrada, spokesman of the local organizing committee.

While athletes aren’t required to stay in the village – and indeed many of the biggest-name stars may end up staying in alternative housing outside the complex – organizers said the village will be the highest-security facility of a games patrolled by 85,000 police and soldiers. That’s twice as the number of security forces as at the 2012 games in London.

A double fence will ring the perimeter of the complex, and everyone coming in and out will be subject to airport security procedures, complete with X-rays of all incoming bags and luggage, organizers said.

The idea is that once the athletes and their retinue are inside the security perimeter, “they won’t need to leave the village,” said Mario Cilenti, the facility’s director.

The 3,600 units include two-, three-, or four-bedroom apartments with white tile floors and small balconies, some of which overlook a nearby “favela” hillside slum.

All the bedrooms are doubles, kitted out with two beds that can be extended out to 2.3 meters for the tallest athletes, as well as what appeared to be a disposable wardrobe made out of fabric stretched over a metal frame. In the living room, there are a few basic armchairs and a clothes drying rack. Crucially, the apartments all come with air conditioning units and electric mosquito-repelling apparatuses – aimed at preventing the spread of the Zika virus, which has been linked to a surge in Brazil cases of the birth defect microcephaly.

Cilenti described the set-up as hitting the sweet spot between functionality and austerity – now a guiding principle of games that come as Brazil is immersed in the most severe economic recession in decades.

“It’s the basic,” Cilenti said, adding, “there are no frills, just the basic necessities.”

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes has repeatedly stressed that very little public money was spent on the Olympic project, with private companies taking on many of the key construction projects – in exchange for concessions from the city. Case in point, the Olympic village, which was built by a consortium that is renting the complex to Olympic organizers during the games. In exchange for building the complex, City Hall exempted the development from local zoning laws, allowing for taller-than-normal towers.

The developers have long been marketing the apartments to the public at large, with buyers expected to move in after the games.

Officials at Thursday’s press visit declined to give any financial details about the Olympic village, explaining only the builders could provide the project’s cost or the asking price for the units.

However, the local Olympic committee spokesman acknowledged that with a recession hitting Brazil, sales weren’t living up to expectations.

The consortium behind the project, which will be known as “Ilha Pura,” or “Pure Island” after the games, is made up of mega-construction companies Carvalho Hosken and Odebrecht. Odebrecht is a key player in the sprawling corruption investigation centered around state-run oil company Petrobras. Graft had long been such an engrained part of the company’s modus operandi that it even had a specific department whose mission was to distribute bribes, investigators in the case have said.

Mayor Paes has insisted all Olympic projects are corruption-free.

MORE: Rio 2016 apologizes for using jaguar in Olympic torch relay

Mo Farah likely to retire this year

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British track legend Mo Farah will likely retire by the end of this year.

“I’m not going to go to the Olympics, and I think 2023 will probably be my last year,” the 39-year-old Farah said, according to multiple British media reports.

Farah, who swept the 5000m and 10,000m golds at the Olympics in 2012 and 2016, was announced Tuesday as part of the field for the London Marathon on April 23.

Last May, Farah reportedly said he believed his career on the track was over, but not the roads.

London might not be his last marathon. Farah also said that if, toward the end of this year, he was capable of being picked to run for Britain again, he would “never turn that down,” according to Tuesday’s reports.

It’s not clear if Farah was referencing the world track and field championships, which include a marathon and are in Budapest in August. Or selection for the 2024 British Olympic marathon team.

The fastest British male marathoner last year ran 2:10:46, ranking outside the top 300 in the world. Farah broke 2:10 in all five marathons that he’s finished, but he hasn’t run one since October 2019 (aside from pacing the 2020 London Marathon).

Farah withdrew four days before the last London Marathon on Oct. 2, citing a right hip injury.

Farah switched from the track to the marathon after the 2017 World Championships and won the 2018 Chicago Marathon in a then-European record time of 2:05:11. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi now holds the record at 2:03:36.

Farah’s best London Marathon finish in four starts was third place in 2018.

Farah returned to the track in a failed bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then shifted back to the roads.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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