In a country as busy, vibrant, controversial and colourful as Brazil, the Rio Olympic Games were never going to get off to a quiet start – and they didn’t disappoint on that count on Saturday.
Swimmer Yusra Mardini, who is representing the Refugee team under the Olympic flag and won her 100m butterfly heat to huge cheers in the pool at the Aquatics Stadium in Rio.
Her time wasn’t enough to win her a place in the semi-finals but it won the hearts of the spectators and is the latest chapter in an incredible story. Mardini, 18, and her sister fled war-torn Syria a year ago and travelled through Lebanon and Turkey before trying to reach Greece by a boat fit for six but carrying 20 people.
The motor failed and Mardini jumped in and swam for three and a half hours, pulling the boat and stopping it from capsizing before reaching land on the island of Lesbos where she could barely stand. She was given asylum in Berlin where her swimming talents were spotted and that led to Rio and Saturday’s sterling effort. She goes again on Wednesday in the freestyle heats.
From the cool of the pool to the heat of the hills where Team GB, despite a heroic effort, failed to pick up a medal in the gruelling road race as Geraint Thomas fell from the saddle on the final descent when nicely set leaving Belgium’s Greg van Avermaet to take Olympic gold in a thrilling finish.
In the blistering heat and after six hours of riding Thomas was in the leading bunch when he crashed on a bend after fellow Brits Froome and Adam Yates failed to keep pace with the pack. Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang took silver and Poland’s Rafal Majka bronze.
It is hard to point the finger at Tour de France winner Froome who has a chance to make amends in Wednesday’s time trial where he will be aiming to improve on his London bronze. There were happier news and good omens for Scottish swimmer Adam Peaty who continues to amaze in the pool as he set a world record in the men’s 100m breaststroke.
His time of 57.55sec was over a second ahead of everyone else in his heat and bodes very nicely indeed for Sunday night’s final.
“I went out pretty fast, quite easy, came back and I heard everyone cheering and I thought: what are they cheering for? there’s no Brazilians in this lane,” Peaty said after his exploits.
The heart-stopping incidents came outside the venues. There was a scare at the Olympic Equestrian Centre as a military bullet pierced the roof of the media tent and landed on the floor near tables where press conferences are held. It happened during lunch at the dressage event.
No one was hurt but the shot left a clear hole in the roof. There was also a controlled explosion near the finishing line of the men’s road race as nerves continue to fray. Brazil’s anti-bomb squad destroyed a suspect package just two hours before the race was due to finish.
A loud bang was heard on the BBC’s coverage of the road race, with the commentators Simon Brotherton and former Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist Chris Boardman falling silent for a number of seconds before confirming that the noise had come from near the finish line.
There was a similar incident near the beach volleyball arena on Friday when harmless but unattended bags were discovered. Rio organisers were also forced to apologise on day one when spectators were forced to queue outside the Olympic Park in the blazing sun awaiting access to the venues.
With temperatures hitting 32C in the city it made for an uncomfortable first day for spectators who were held up by the bag scanning process which delayed entry to the Olympic Park. Organising committee spokesman, Mario Andrada, said “we obviously need to upgrade” the systems and said they have asked authorities to speed up bag checks.
There were reports that some bags were going unchecked as spectators were ushered through to speed up the process.
Andrada added: “We apologise to everyone who is standing in the sun in lines outside the venues …”
Official buses transporting media to and from Olympic venues were also causing havoc with some getting lost and taking the wrong directions. Andrada said organisers would check if drivers had sufficient training as it became apparent some did not.
The bus from Media Village 3 to the Main Press Centre, a 15-minute trip, took 55 minutes on Saturday morning. But Andrada added: “we don’t have major structural problems with transport”.
Yet getting away from the Maracana after the Opening Ceremony on Friday night was chaos with traffic stationary, the Metro suffering from overcrowding and far too few Olympic buses laid on to cater for staff and media.