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In The Olympic Spirit, Tourists Are Giving Rio Benefit Of The Doubt


With the Olympics set to start in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, athletes and tourists are flooding the city. NPR correspondent Lulu Garcia-Navarro checked in with some of those visitors.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: So you've heard all the bad news - Zika, muggings, dirty water, disorganized venues. But Rio de Janeiro has a secret weapon.

MARIKA BIELEFELD: It's a great city, a big city, wonderful city, beautiful beaches.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rio de Janeiro simply wows when you first see it. It's epically gorgeous. Marika Bielefeld is from Holland. And she was waiting in line to go up to see the view on top of Sugarloaf Mountain. It provides an iconic vista of the sparkling sea and green mountains of the city. She says she came to Rio despite all the warnings.

BIELEFELD: We just wanted to see the games because we were in London in 2012 and we were so enthusiastic, we said we'd go again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just coming down from Sugarloaf are two Americans wearing sports jerseys.

And you guys are athletes or tourists?

COLIN SMITH: We're tourists. Former athletes, though - high school.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: High school. Somehow I just don't think that's the same thing.

SMITH: Yeah, well, you know.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Peter Jorgensen from New York and Colin Smith from Alaska, both 23.

SMITH: Beautiful city. This is our first full day here. Just went up to Sugarloaf. Amazing views. Couldn't be more impressed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Peter jokes he hasn't been to the beach yet.

PETER JORGENSEN: I'll try to avoid the flesh-eating bacteria or whatever is in the water. So, no, everything's fine here, I think.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Both say they are really excited about Team USA's prospects.

JORGENSEN: Yeah, I think, yeah, every American athlete is going to get 10s on everything and nine from the Russian judge. So that's the expectation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) All right, there you go. Thank you so much, guys.

SMITH: Thank you so much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: On the famed Copacabana beach, tourists and residents are flocking to take pictures in front of an Olympic rings sculpture on the sand. Adriana Marvelli is a Carioca, as natives of Rio are called. She's living in the States, but she's come back to Rio for the games. And she says she's tired of all the bad press her home city is getting.

ADRIANA MARVELLI: I love Rio. I think there's - what's not to love? There was a personality and a character in town within the people. People are very proud of their spaces and their outdoor areas. And I think that's part of coming here and experiencing that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think it was a good idea for the Olympics to come to Rio?

MARVELLI: It's about time to come to South America. I know it's not a first world Europe. It's not. But there's a lot of great people living and doing great things in the city.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Outside the main Olympic park, which is 20 miles away from Copacabana, Alan Edge, the team leader for gymnastics Great Britain, had a few complaints. Distances are big. Transportation is really slow. But where it counts, he gave Rio a big thumbs up.

ALAN EDGE: Venue is fantastic. Training venues as good as London. And this venue, competition venue, equally good.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes, Rio has had a lot of problems. But getting into the Olympic spirit, many visitors are willing to give this complicated, beautiful city the benefit of the doubt. Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.