Rio Gets an Early Start on Olympic Events

Sunday, June 24, 2007

If you don't want to wait for next summer's Olympic Games in Beijing, there is world-class competition closer to home next month at the XV Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro. Some 5,500 athletes from 42 countries will compete in more than two dozen sports, most Olympic but some not. The United States is expected to send 650 athletes. Here's what's happening to welcome spectators to a city better known for more spontaneous pursuits.

-- Sabrina Valle

THE GAMES: The event runs July 13-29 at 15 venues in Rio. Opening and closing ceremonies are at Maracana Stadium, which can hold 95,000 people. Officials in Rio expect a half-million tourists to come for the games, which will include hockey, basketball, baseball, tennis, soccer and volleyball, as well as water skiing, handball, bowling and various martial arts. For a list of all the sports, the full calendar and each country's sports, go to the official Rio Pan American Games Web page (see Information below).

SEEING THE GAMES: Tickets, as little as $5 and as much as $25, can be obtained through the official Web site (see below). Starting July 1, tickets will also be sold at the sports venues; Visa or cash accepted. Seats at the opening ceremony are sold out, but tickets are still available for the closing ceremony for $26 to $77.

Some events are free, including the marathon, race walk, cycling track, water skiing, triathlon and sailing.

Among this year's hottest U.S. teams are the women's water polo players, who won the FINA world championship in Melbourne, Australia, in April and will be competing in Rio to qualify for an Olympic spot. The American women's gymnasts, described by one U.S. Olympic Committee official as "the deepest and possibly most talented team in U.S. history," will also compete. Gary Hall Jr., winner of 10 Olympic medals, will be swimming for the U.S. team. Members of the U.S. high-performance beach volleyball program are favored to bring home the country's first-ever Pan American medal in the sport.

GETTING SETTLED: Rio is a city of 6 million -- almost twice that if you count the entire metropolitan area -- with more than 40 miles of beaches. The games will take place during the country's winter, when the average high temperature is 75 degrees. . . . The currency in Brazil is the real (pronounced hey-al). One U.S. dollar is worth 1.92 reals.

WHERE TO STAY: Organizers have assembled a searchable list of about 45 hotels, including such chains as Best Western, Sheraton and Sofitel. Prices, including breakfast and taxes, start at about $140 a night for a double room in a two-star hotel and top out at about $630 at the beachfront Copacabana Palace Hotel. (1702 Avenida Atlantica, 011-55-21-2548-7070, Many of the hotels near major events are sold out, but affordable options still available at press time included the Praia Ipanema Hotel, (706 Ave. Vieira Souto, Ipanema, 011-55-21-2141-4949,, with rooms from $262; and the Marina Palace Hotel (630 Ave. Delfim Moreira, Leblon, 011-55-21-2172-1001,, starting at $242.

WHERE TO EAT: Rio has restaurants of numerous culinary stripes: steaks and seafood, French, Middle Eastern, Japanese and more. Porcao (591 Armando Lombardi Ave., Barra da Tijuca; and Infante Dom Henrique Ave., Aterro do Flamengo) is one of the best Brazilian steakhouses. It has an all-you-can-eat option for $29-$33, plus drinks and tip.

Bibi Sucos (632 Rua Jardim Botanico, Jardim Botanico; 493 Rua Olegario Maciel, Barra da Tijuca; and 591 Rua Ataulfo de Paiva, Leblon) is a "juice house" chain famous for its long list of fresh fruit juices ($3.20) and its acai fruit sorbet ($4.10). Try it with granola. The filet mignon sandwich with french fries ($4.10) is also a hit.

VISA: U.S. citizens need a tourist visa and passport valid for at least six months; the nonrefundable visa fee is $100.

INFORMATION: XV Pan American Games official Web site, U.S. Olympic Committee, 719-632-5551, Riotur, the City of Rio de Janeiro Tourism Authority,

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