RIO DE JANEIRO – The Olympic flag arrived Monday in Rio de Janeiro, which will host the 2016 Summer Games — a challenge which authorities in Brazil say the city is prepared to conquer.
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes stepped off a plane carrying the flag, accompanied by Carlos Arthur Nuzman, president of the 2016 Games Organizing Committee and Rio Governor Sergio Cabral, an AFP correspondent at the airport saw.
“The arrival of the Olympic flag marks a period of transformation in the city,” Paes told reporters. “This is a unique opportunity for Brazil — a time of great celebration.”
Also on board the plane were Brazilian athletes — some with medals around their necks — who competed in the London Games, which ended on Sunday in a blaze of music, fireworks and light.
“Arriving in Rio with the flag was a privilege for us, the athletes,” said Roberto Scheidt, who won bronze in Olympic sailing’s Star competition with Bruno Prada.
“There is room for much improvement (in terms of the number of medals won) here in Rio,” Scheidt added.
Brazil won a total of 17 medals in London — three gold, five silver and nine bronze.
Hosting the Games will be a huge challenge for a city notorious for its traffic chaos, poor infrastructure and shanty town violence, but authorities say Rio — which also hosts the 2014 World Cup — will rise to the occasion.
On Tuesday, the Olympic flag will be flown to Brasilia for a ceremony attended by President Dilma Rousseff and on Wednesday, Paes will carry it through Rio’s northern Alemao complex of shanties — known here as favelas — as well as through the western district of Realengo, officials said.
On Sunday, Paes received the Olympic flag from London Mayor Boris Johnson during the ceremony that marked the close of the London Games and the countdown to the 2016 Summer Games, which will be the first held in South America.
On Monday, Brazilian deputy sports minister Luis Fernandes said in London that the 2016 Games would galvanize projects already in place across South America’s largest country as well as in Rio, a city of 6.5 million people.
The plans in Rio include the extension of a metro line to the western Barra da Tijuca district. Four express lanes for buses and cars are also under construction.
“The Olympics are an opportunity to invest a huge quantity of funds in infrastructure, an amount that would normally take 15 or 20 years to invest,” Fernandes told a press conference in London.
“The Olympics give us an opportunity to concentrate resources to build this infrastructure a bit sooner,” he added.
Brazilian Olympic Committee officials and Rio city authorities insist everything will be ready. Some of the venues will be used for the World Cup, but the Olympic Village and other event sites still must be built.