Every Olympic cycle carries with it now numerous points of concern about issues confronting the host as it prepares for the voracious invasion of its space.
The recent past has been marked by questions of sheer readiness of venues, cost overruns, callous displacement of entire neighborhoods, political suppression, smog and, of course, terrorism informed both by the horrors of the 1972 Munich Games and realities of the modern world.
The recent past also has seen things essentially work out — at least for the athletes, if not for the dispossessed and the debt-ridden nations trying to figure out what to do with all those venues.
Thus, the customary outlook approximately 150 days before the 2016 Rio Olympics opening ceremony on Aug. 5: What comes to mind first for many anticipating the Games is not Brazil’s splendor but its squalor and the emergence of the frightening Zika virus and attached mysteries.
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Whether those matters, too, shall pass with little discernible damage to athletes can’t be known until after the fact, of course.
But at the U.S. Olympic Media Summit, a three-day event featuring more than 100 prospective Olympians and USOC officials, anxieties about either issue largely were muted.
Since 2014, U.S. sailing candidate Briana Provancha and partner Annie Haeger have been to Rio eight times and sailed more than 100 days in waters that include the much-scrutinized Guanabara Bay.
“I can tell you I haven’t sailed in a more beautiful place than Rio,” Provancha said, noting the background including Sugarloaf Mountain and the nearly 100-foot Christ the Redeemer statue. “Gosh, it gave me goosebumps.”
As for what her more immediate environment might give her, well, never mind the raw sewage and reports of human corpses and furniture among other impediments.
“Debris in the water is an issue in any sailing venue in the world,” she said.
So she’ll take care to be hygienically sound as she always would. And, sure, perhaps there will be some prescribed modifications to come through the USOC’s Infectious Disease Advisory Group.
But she won’t be wearing a hazmat suit, she said, laughing.
“Everybody’s concerned about it, but everybody gets concerned about whatever,” she said. “They’re concerned about Kim Kardashian wearing red instead of black. I mean, let’s be serious.”
Part of the point of her perspective, of course, is simply what she is choosing to focus on.
It’s less a matter of denial than emphasis.
That’s how many athletes, at least publicly, also seem to be approaching the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects and about which so much remains murky.
Though U.S. women’s soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo recently told SI.com that she has qualms, USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said he knew of no athlete who has said he or she won’t compete.
While Blackmun was entirely sympathetic to the issue, barring some radical change, the USOC stance is one of doing all it can to inform and educate but leave participation decisions to athletes.
That could get complicated for any Olympic athlete, who could be left trying to reconcile the fleeting window to be an Olympian with all of the unknowns of the mosquito-borne virus — including how long it stays in someone’s body and when it would be safe to get pregnant after Rio.
“My husband is the target for mosquitoes,” said 800-meter runner Alysia Montano, laughing and adding, “So he might just have to stay home.”
But this wasn’t the apprehension most on the mind of Montano.
Instead, she gave eloquent voice to the scourge that is the common denominator of the modern Olympics: doping.
Although eclipsed to the outside world by Zika and the filthy water, the sanctity of the competitions remains foremost to most athletes.
And it’s been tarnished anew with recent revelations that Kenya has no national anti-doping agency and a report on the Russian track federation’s state-sponsored doping and complicity of the International Association of Athletics Federations.
That finding has made for a provisional ban of the Russian track team from the Rio games that may or may not hold up.
This is all quite personal to Montano, a six-time U.S. champion who finished fifth in the 800 at the 2012 London Games … only to learn the Russians who won gold and bronze were reported to have doped and face potential lifetime bans.
Between sponsorship money and direct financial rewards lost for several medals in that and other competitions, Montano said she conservatively estimated she was out $800,000 she’d have made if the competitions had been just.
Moreover, these are just the latest blows to the credibility of a sport that she loved enough to compete in in 2014 when she was 34 weeks pregnant to be a symbol of empowerment.
Montano, who teared up several time as she spoke, was particularly offended by another aspect of all this.
The cheaters dilute and even steal from our children, she said, about what makes up “the idea of amazing.”
So the IAAF, she said, “has a lot to prove to us right now. Eyes are watching and the time is now.”
The same soon will be said for Rio, even as athletes try to set their focus on the picturesque horizon instead of the muck they have to navigate.