RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The most troubled venue for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics – the indoor cycling velodrome – is almost ready to go with the games opening in just under six weeks.
Rio organizers took possession of the building on Sunday with about 30 mostly Brazilian cyclists spinning around the banked track during a practice session.
This is the last permanent venue at the Olympic Park being handed over to organizers. Repeated delays and contract disputes forced two cycling test events to be canceled.
The first real racing on the track will be after the Olympics open Aug. 5. It will follow months of complaints from the International Cycling Union, the sport’s ruling body.
“It’s certainly not ideal, but given the circumstances we’re very happy to have some practice this weekend,” said Gilles Peruzzi, the UCI technical delegate. After all the setbacks, he called the venue a “positive outcome.”
However, the venue is still a work in progress. Temporary seating still must go in, along with concessions and other behind-the-scenes facilities. Window cleaners were still working Sunday at one end of the track, and painting remains to be done.
“We see that the building is still under construction, so there is a bit of dust on the track,” said Swiss rider Gael Suter, who practiced Sunday and has already qualified for his first Olympics. “Maybe it is not 100 percent yet. But no doubt it will be ready for the Olympics, and it will be a fast track.”
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, who has spoken at handovers of almost every Olympic project, repeated his standard speech. He said limited public money was spent on the Olympics, with private companies handling key projects.
This came in exchange for concessions from the city, including exemptions in zoning laws and access for developers to prime real estate in the upscale suburb of Barra da Tijuca, the heart of the games.
Rio is spending between $10-12 billion, a mix of public and private money, to prepare for the Olympics.
Paes said Sunday that, non-Brazilians in particular, had “every reason to have a certain amount of mistrust about our country.” But he said delivery of games venues should change that.
Paes is coming under scrutiny on several fronts. City prosecutors and council members are scrutinizing Olympic contracts, and at least two other investigations involve the mayor. He denies any wrongdoing.
In truth, Rio has had little trouble delivering venues on time. The problems are everywhere else: the Zika virus, steep budget cuts, slow ticket sales and severe water pollution in the venues for sailing, rowing, canoeing, triathlon and distance swimming.
On Friday, the World Anti-Doping Agency said it had suspended the city’s accredited anti-doping laboratory. It’s not clear if the lab will be re-opened in time for the Olympics, another major embarrassment. If not, thousands of blood and urine samples will be shipped abroad for analysis.
On the political front, Brazil President Dilma Rousseff is suspended and faces impeachment charges – with interim president Michel Temer in charge.
Brazil is also in the midst of its steepest recession since the 1930s.
“What is amazing is the resilience of these people here,” Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi said. “Because they’ve faced a lot of hardships and they’ve overcome them, one after another. The velodrome was a massive, massive last-minute effort.”
Dubi acknowledged much remains to be done – at all venues.
“When you are inside 40 days as we are, you still have a lot of details,” he said. “And you can see around you there are still a lot of people working. This is where we are – the last minute.”
Gustavo Nascimento, Rio’s venue management director, said venues for swimming and tennis still had work to do. He said the tennis venue lacks two temporary seating areas, and lighting still must be installed for the swimming events.
At Deodoro in northern Rio, the second largest Olympic cluster, work remains to be done on the equestrian venue, and stadiums for rugby and field hockey. Nascimento said he’s not expecting any snags.
He said work on all permanent venues will end on July 10. Temporary venues will be finished by July 21, and athletes will have access to venues starting July 24.
“Everything is going to be ready, no doubt about it,” he said.
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