The most crisis-ridden Olympic Games in history opens in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Friday with organisers hoping to draw a line under a turbulent seven-year build-up to the greatest sporting show on Earth, AFPreports.
Over 11,000 athletes from 206 countries will be vying for medals in 306 events in 28 sports in the competition in which London 2012 champions United States are favourites to win. But the Americans will be stiffly challenged by China, who came second four years ago.
Nigeria, who failed to win a single medal at London 2012, will vie for medals in boxing, athletics, table tennis, wrestling, men’s football, rowing, canoeing, basketball and swimming. Beijing 2008 Games bronze medallist and 2014 Commonwealth Games 100 and 200 metres champion Blessing Okagbare remains Nigeria’s biggest hope in Rio.
Football legend Pele is tipped to ignite the Olympic flame at Rio’s iconic Maracana Stadium in Friday’s opening ceremony, as the four-yearly celebration of sporting endeavour arrives in South America for the first time.
Olympic chiefs will hope the ceremony marks the start of a 17-day carnival of sport, a feast of drama framed by a Rio backdrop of breathtaking natural beauty.
Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt will compete under the gaze of the Christ the Redeemer statue, sailors will duel in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain while the golden sands of Copacabana will host the spiritual homecoming of the beach volleyball tournament.
Yet the sporting spectacle comes after a frequently chaotic build-up which at times has threatened to leave the city nursing a nasty hangover before the party even starts.
When Rio successfully won the race for the Games in 2009, the 2016 Olympics looked set to be the crowning glory of a dynamic, newly-confident Brazil.
But a brutal recession, double-digit unemployment, fears about the mosquito-borne Zika virus, embarrassing infrastructure stumbles and a political crisis that led to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff have all but extinguished the euphoria that greeted the vote victory.
More than one million tickets, or 20 per cent of the total, including for coveted events such as the men’s 100-metres final, remained unsold as of Wednesday.
Several ambitious plans to transform Rio have long since been abandoned, including a pledge to clean up the city’s filthy Guanabara Bay.
That failure means athletes in Olympic sailing and windsurfing events will be forced to compete in a toxic soup of raw sewage from half of the city’s population.
The Zika virus – which can cause serious birth defects if pregnant mothers are infected – has prompted all of the world’s top four golfers to withdraw from the games.
Brazilian officials insist that the threat of infection is near zero in what is one of the coolest times of the year.
Once again, Jamaican superstar Bolt could electrify his sport when he attempts to defend his 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay crowns in the blue riband track and field event.