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Rio faces marathon run-in to 2016 Olympics

With two years to go Rio de Janeiro faces a marathon race to ensure their 2016 Olympic Games match the success of the World Cup.

RIO DE JANEIRO: With two years to go, Rio de Janeiro faces a marathon race to ensure their 2016 Olympic Games match the success of the World Cup.

Germany's triumph over Argentina at Rio's Maracana stadium brought the curtain down on a World Cup heralded as one of the best ever staged. Now the spotlight falls on the 'marvellous city's ambitious US$16 billion project for the Olympics' first visit to South America.

Over half the budget, which exceeds that of the London 2012 Games, is being met by the private sector or joint private/public sources. Early preparations for the Aug 5 to 12, 2016 event had been sluggish, fuelling concerns even within the International Olympic Committee (IOC) about the city's ability to deliver.

For Olympic chief Thomas Bach, the Games are now Brazil's number one objective. "I was pleased to hear the confidence President Rousseff has in the Games and what they will deliver, and it was good to hear that the Games and their legacy will be a top priority," said Bach after talks with the Brazilian president on the eve of his compatriot's World Cup win.

In April a very different tone was struck by IOC vice-president John Coates. The Australian caused a stir when criticising Rio's preparations as "the worst that I've experienced" in his 40 years involvement with the Olympics. He later tried to defuse the row his comments caused by saying the city of 10 million could deliver an "excellent" Games.

Organisers are now optimistic that the deadline for Olympic-related work will be met, with 52 of the 71 Olympic projects in varying states of completion. There are a further 27 projects targeted at improving life for Rio's inhabitants and its sprawling suburbs. These are headed by the renovation of the port area, a new underground line and a new rapid bus system.

"We're sure that the Games in Rio will be well organised," General Fernando Azevedo e Silva, president of Brazil's Olympic Public Authority, said last week. One of the projects that suffered delays was the Olympic venue at Deodoro, due to host seven disciplines including equestrian, cycling, shooting and fencing.

Work should have started in 2013, it eventually began on July 3. In Deodoro, three venues already exist, a legacy from the 2007 PanAmerican Games, others must be built from scratch. Their delivery date has been set for the first half of 2016, not allowing any margin for error.

CONDITIONS IN RIO'S BAY FAR FROM IDYLLIC

The first venue to undergo a 2016 Games dress rehearsal is Rio's bay, 23 Olympic medal winning yachtsmen began trials there on Saturday. Despite the picture postcard setting, with the Sugar Loaf mountain providing a majestic backdrop, conditions in the water were far from idyllic. "We found a lot of plastic bottles and bags. Yesterday we saw a dead dog in the water," reported Mathew Belcher, London Olympic champion in the 470 class. If the Olympics were tomorrow, we would really have a problem," the Australian told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.

An AFP photographer found a dead cat in the water during a tour of the bay last Thursday. There are also television sets, sofas, shoes and other unwholesome items swept into the bay in the deluge of sewage that comes from Rio. Brazilian authorities say that 80 per cent of the pollution in Guanabara Bay will be cleaned by the time the Games start on August 5, 2016.

Forty kilometres from the bay, lies a vast wasteland - the site of what is supposed to become the main Olympic Park, home to 15 sports. Strikes and delays have hampered the start of work - the cycling Velodrome has only just begun to be built. Golf makes its Olympic debut in Rio - part of the irrigation system is in place and the fairways laid between now and September 2015.

With all the work ahead it's clear the 720 days before the lighting of the Olympic cauldron on August 5 are going to flash by. But Rio organisers can take heart form the World Cup, which too faced a frantic scramble to be ready - a battle won in the end handsomely.

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