The pageantry of the Rio Olympics debuts Friday evening with the Opening Ceremony, which will be watched around the globe.
But where this grand summer event goes after that is anyone’s guess.
Worries over the Zika virus, possible terrorism and the unfinished/substandard Olympics Athletes Village and venues have been front and center in recent weeks. Brazil’s spike in violent crime has concerned many visitors.
Still, this is the proper time to offer up the real hope that inspiring performances from women and men on the soccer field, in the pool, on the track and field, and in many other sporting arenas will be the lasting images of these Games.
Among the story lines to watch:
KC area athletes
It’s always fun to root for the hometown kid to make good.
Tennis player Jack Sock went to Blue Valley North High School and has shot up the U.S. men’s rankings in recent years.
Courtney Frerichs of Nixa, Mo., was a latecomer to track and field, then became one of the nation’s best 3,000-meter steeplechase runners while attending the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Amy Cragg of Leavenworth will compete in the marathon. Lydia Patterson of Piper High School qualified for shooting/air rifle competition, while Zach Garrett of Wellington, Mo., will compete in archery.
U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
Americans are used to seeing their athletes on the podium and hearing the National Anthem playing in the background, and the Rio Olympics should be no different.
The country always sends one of the biggest and best contingents to the Games, along with Russia and China. But the doping scandal that has engulfed the Russian team (more on that in a moment) will make it easier for Americans to win gold, silver and bronze medals.
Appropriately enough, some ardent Olympics fans don’t like the jingoistic attitudes that can infect the Games. The dominance of certain teams such as the U.S. men and women in basketball and American women in soccer can become a bit boring, even for U.S. fans.
Still, American competitors won’t be the overwhelming favorites in plenty of other sports. Pulling for them to win will be something like rooting for the underdog. Everyone loves underdogs, right?
Drugs and more
In recent days, International Olympic Committee officials have seemed to publicly rebuke the World Anti-Doping Agency for its tough-minded and correct probe of how Russian officials and athletes fooled drug tests for years.
The International Association of Athletics Federations got it right when the group banned the entire Russian track and field team from competing in the Olympics after systematic cheating was revealed in that sport.
The IOC, even after upholding that decision, decided it was up to individual sports federations to forbid Russian athletes from taking part in swimming, gymnastics and other sports at the Games. Some federations weighed in with selective bans, while others didn’t.
At the very least, preventing some cheaters from competing at the Rio Olympics will create a cleaner environment where records and medal standings will more accurately reflect who the best athletes truly are.
The Zika virus
The Zika virus spread by mosquitoes has caused a good number of world-class athletes to decline to compete in Rio, forced some Americans to cancel plans to attend the Games and created plenty of second thoughts among athletes determined to make it to the Olympics.
It’s encouraging that officials are trying to take precautions to protect the athletes and their large support teams, including coaches, from a virus that can result in the birth of infants with smaller heads and the potential for an intellectual disability. Yet nothing is foolproof in shielding people from something as simple as mosquito bite.
Ultimately, the people and spectators who travel to Brazil may not know for weeks or months whether they contracted the disease. One thing for them will be sure: The lure of going to the Olympics trumped their fears of the virus.
Cheer the refugees
Finally, despite all the woes attached to the Rio Games, a wonderful bright spot will be the participation by 10 athletes from four countries making up the Refugee Olympic Team.
This isn’t a nod to charity by Games officials; all the distance runners, swimmers and other athletes met qualifying marks. They did it by overcoming great odds, perhaps the biggest being the fact they had to leave their home countries because of wars, persecution or violence.
Rooting for the refugees is something people of all nations can do. It will be a great opportunity for a beleaguered world to revel in the true spirit of the true Olympic movement.