As of Sunday, Team Star Tribune has been in Rio for six days, and none of us has gotten sick yet. None of us has been robbed. Our housing at Barra Media Village 1 is basic, but it’s clean and comfortable, and the only issue was not having any hot water the first day.
I’d love to say I’m breathing a sigh of relief, thinking all the concerns about the Rio Games were greatly exaggerated. Instead, I’m just feeling lucky. Since we arrived Tuesday, we’ve learned many of Rio’s dangers are very real, and they’re not taking a break during the Olympics.
Saturday, some Australian rowing coaches were robbed at knifepoint and roughed up at Ipanema beach. Other athletes, media and tourists have been victimized at Copacabana beach, and even in the stands during the opening ceremony at Maracana Stadium.
Our photographer, Brian Peterson, said a colleague had equipment stolen out of his backpack--by someone who was behind him--at Maracana. Brian also heard a tale of a photographer who had $40,000 of gear stolen in a scheme run by three guys who worked together to distract him, take the stuff and escape. And another photographer saw a man shot to death outside Maracana; the victim lay in the street, bleeding from his head, in an area swarming with people who had just attended the ceremony.
Reporters have to leave our computers and gear bags in media workrooms or seating areas while we're getting interviews. Many of us are really concerned about that, even though the media areas are supposed to be secure.
We’re being vigilant, of course, but that doesn’t always matter. Saturday, a stray bullet pierced the roof of the media tent at the equestrian venue. The communications director for Rio 2016 expressed little concern, saying the venue wasn’t a target and calling it “an unfortunate incident.’’ Sunday, he said the bullet—which landed near the press conference room—was fired from a slum, by someone targeting a police blimp.
There also was an explosion near the finish line of the men’s cycling road race Saturday, which rattled the media viewing area. Officials said it was “a controlled explosion of an unattended backpack.’’ This occurred during the race, in an area flooded with people.
Remember, all this is happening with 85,000 police and military swarming the city.
There are some other safety concerns, too. In Barra Olympic Park on Saturday, the sun was beating down mercilessly on a 90-degree day, yet people were left standing in the heat for hours because there weren’t enough workers. It took two hours to get into some venues, and the few stands selling water or other beverages had lines that ran more than a hundred deep. The park also has very little shade.
This is about the only patch of green in the place, unless you count the painted concrete.
I’ve heard from some people who are questioning whether the water really is as bad as advertised, because it looks so nice on TV. The answer: Yes. NBC and its global counterparts paid billions to televise an Olympics surrounded by Rio’s natural beauty, and organizers have made sure areas that will be in their shots look clean.
But the Associated Press—which has commissioned periodic testing of the water at venues—reported that the latest samples showed 248 million adenoviruses per liter in Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, where Olympic rowing is taking place. The AP said that level “would have authorities in the U.S. closing down beaches and lakes and taking emergency measures to protect public health.’’
So for the next 15 days, we'll keep our heads low, we won't drink the water and we'll hope for the best.