Feeling the Rio spirit? Brazilians find they're enjoying the Games after all.

Many Brazilians expected the worst. But they've had a change of heart. 

Reuters/Leonhard Foeger
Brazil fans cheer from the stands at the Brazil vs Honduras men's Olympic soccer semifinal Aug. 17, 2016.

It's hardly what people expected, after months of reports outlining Rio's bumbling preparations for the Olympic Games. But some Brazilians are actually getting caught up in the Olympic spirit.

It's something of a predictable cycle. Before every Games, the host city is criticized for its shoddy or slow construction and its apparent inability to pull off the role as host. In the leadup to the 2016 Olympics, headlines jumped from terrorism and security threats to polluted waterways and unfinished construction, with little room for excitement or hope.

A week and a half into the Games, there have certainly been struggles: A security coordinator for the opening ceremony was robbed on his way home from the event, a member of the European Olympic Committee is accused of participating in a ticket-scalping operation, the official diving pool took on a strange color and smell, and a camera fell in the Olympic Park, wounding seven adults and children. An athlete from Great Britain was robbed earlier this week, resulting in a warning to the British team not to leave the Olympic Village.

But there has also been a change of heart among many Brazilians, nearly half of whom in late July said they were against the Games. Some say it was the low expectations that locals – and the world – had for the success of the Olympics that has made room for enjoying the competition, while others say they’ve simply been swept up in the Olympic spirit.

"The truth is that we expected dragnet, shooting, Zika, a poorly organized event, and everyone bad-mouthing Rio, but nothing of that happened and the party is wonderful," says Renata Azevedo, a Rio-based doctor visiting the Olympic Boulevard with her niece, Mariana Dias, who looks crushed when she learns the Games are only a one-time event here.

And it didn’t take long for local pride to bubble up. One resident posted on Twitter after the successful opening ceremony that she felt that even if Brazil was experiencing very tough times, it still knew how to throw a great party and look glamorous while doing it. 

'Best thing that happened to us'

The Games have been a welcome distraction from growing unemployment, political scandals, and a dramatic presidential impeachment process, locals say. Since 2012, Brazil has hosted a mega-event – from a UN environmental conference to a papal visit and the World Cup – at least every year, and the Olympics are the last scheduled event on the docket for the foreseeable future.

“I can only accept a future in which Brazil hosts a mega sports event every two years,” jokes Aline Lima, a teacher based just outside Rio. The end of the Olympics will mark the beginning of confronting a very harsh reality, she says. For example, suspended President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment trial is scheduled to pick up again just days following the closing ceremony.

In the tony Leblon neighborhood, Renato Souza and his family say they’d tried desperately to leave Rio for the Olympics, but are now grateful their plans fell through.

“It was the best thing that happened to us,” Mr. Souza says. “I had no idea we would enjoy it this much.” He and his wife spent $188 to attend four sporting events, including golf and beach volleyball. Even though he says they “don’t care so much for sports... to participate a little bit feels great.”

Ticket prices vary from $12 to nearly $1,500, and although many events are accessible to the Brazilian middle class, they’re still far out of reach for the likes of Wellington Menezes, a waiter who lives in the Vila Kennedy favela, or slums, west of Rio.

"I saw nothing of the Pan American Games, nothing of the World Cup, and nothing of the Olympics,” Mr. Menezes says. The Games have been criticized for missing an important opportunity to bridge the vast gap between the city’s rich and poor. Although Menezes says he doesn’t think the Olympics are very important, he and other Brazilians have found a way to make the Games uniquely their own.

Locals have been criticized for their rowdy cheers, booing opponents, and ignoring requests by referees and judges to stay quiet during events like table tennis and diving.

But some have had fun interacting with sports at the Games they don't really understand. 

“I see people watching most sports and nobody understands anything, we just make jokes, drink, pretend we are experts in everything,” he says, laughing.

He says he probably won’t miss the Olympics, but he’s certain the Games "are going to miss my Rio." 

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