Olympic torch welcomed by samba, smiles and riot police in Rio

Published 04.08.2016 00:00
Updated 04.08.2016 00:36
Olympic torch welcomed by samba, smiles and riot police in Rio

First came Coca-Cola, then the riot cops, then the Olympic flame, and finally the relay runner who pulled down his pants -- this torch relay in Rio was never going to be dull.

The flame's arrival in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday after an odyssey around Brazil began in carefully scripted form.

Navy seamen in white uniforms rowed one of Brazil's Olympic sailing heroes ashore to hand the flame to Mayor Eduardo Paes, who ran a short way with the torch and danced to live samba music.

But then the torch, which will light the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony late Friday, was passed on and the deeper the relay penetrated into the host city the wilder things became.

By the time the cavalcade arrived outside the Rio Museum of Art, there were hundreds of people lining the sidewalks. For many, unable to afford tickets, this would be the closest they got to the Olympic fiesta.

The first thing the excited crowds encountered was not the torch but two large Coca-Cola trucks staffed by young men and women distributing free samples of the soft drink widely criticized as a key to the global obesity epidemic.

Then it was the turn of the police. They came in cars, rifles poking out the windows. They came on motorbikes with rifles strapped cowboy-style at their sides. And they came in long lines on foot, wearing helmets and black armor as if headed to a riot, not a celebration.

- Let the fun begin -

Yet the moment the flame appeared, the party began.

Fans tried to run alongside the torch and riot police held onto each other's shoulders so they wouldn't become separated. Whistles and cheers rained down from windows and balconies.

There was barely room for everyone in the narrow street of ramshackle but picturesque houses.

When musician Tarcisio Cisao, dressed in the regulation yellow and white shorts and shirt for relay runners, took the torch, the tempo rose another notch.

A band of trumpet, trombone and drum players appeared and Cisao drew huge cheers as he danced down the street, holding the flaming torch high above his head.

And then he pulled down his shorts.

Although Rio's mayor insists that the Olympics have transformed the city for the better, many are upset at what they see as an expensive distraction during national recession and near-bankruptcy for the state government.

Others are also upset that elected president Dilma Rousseff is almost sure to be removed from office for allegedly breaking budget laws, then replaced by her enemy Michel Temer, Brazil's interim president.

Cisao is one of those.

He pulled down his Olympic relay shorts, revealing a leopard-print thong and a backside emblazoned with the words: "Temer out."

- Sadness behind the happiness -

"It's a coup d'etat," Cisao, 31, told AFP after he was hustled away by police and the torch was passed to the next runner.

Actor Daniel Galvao, who was in the street band playing while Cisao ran, said the stunt was meant to embarrass Temer and protest what he called the "facade" of the Olympics.

Many shared that bitterness.

"In a way the Olympics is good for Brazil to help us develop, but the country is very sad, full of violence and unemployment," said Carlos Roberto, 56, a dockyard worker. "You go into a hospital and can't find a doctor or medicines."

As the torch and its entourage disappeared, so did the excitement, leaving at best mixed feelings.

"It will bring some happiness, yes it will," pharmacist Edna Carla Assis, 31, said after watching the relay from her store. Then her face fell.

"But nothing more."

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