RIO DE JANEIRO — The Olympic torch faced at least three different protests as it neared Rio, a South Korean cyclist was knocked off his bike by a car, and a bomb scare closed a new tram station. As Rio counts down to its Olympic Opening Ceremonies, Tuesday’s dramas were all transport-related.
The Olympic torch spent the day on the other side of the Guanabara Bay from Rio, and things did not go smoothly. In Itaborai, a gritty, outlying town, construction of a huge oil refinery project has been mothballed after investigators discovered bribery was involved in contracts — leaving many residents unemployed. Demonstrators carried a banner reading: “While the torch passes lit in Itaborai, jobs, health and education are put out.”
In nearby Sao Goncalo, protesters held up the torch’s progress and forced police to change its route, local media reported. A video posted to YouTube showed a group of a hundred or so demonstators chanting threats to put out the torch while holding a banner emblazoned with the Olympic rings and the phrase “exclusion games.” Exasperated police stood by.
Rio’s tabloid Extra reported that National Force agents had to cancel a torch ceremony in the town and move participants to the vicinity of a nearby police station so the Olympic flame’s journey could continue.
As the torch moved closer to Rio it was met by a third protest in Niteroi, a more affluent town with views across the bay to the host city. The Folha de S. Paulo newspaper reported that riot police used tear gas to disperse about 200 protesters and arrested two people.
The torch’s journey has been beset by problems as it traveled around Brazil, including attempts to put it out with fire extinguishers. In the seaside town of Angra dos Reis last week, protesters appeared to succeed in putting out the torch in a protest that police met with tear gas and rubber bullets.
The torch is due to sail across the Guanabara Bay to Rio on Wednesday morning before spending two days circulating the city. It will dock at a Naval School in Rio’s renovated port area and be met by Mayor Eduardo Paes.
He has been dealing with a different crisis — the traffic backups on major arteries since exclusive Olympic lanes were opened for “Olympic Family” vehicles on Sunday. Traffic has been worsening since Monday morning with up to three-hour delays reported on some roads.
At a news conference Tuesday, Paes admitted the problems and declared a public holiday Thursday in an attempt to ease congestion. It will be the fourth holiday he has so far declared during the Olympic period.
Rio’s new tram service, a light rail network called the VLT that opened in June, also hit problems Tuesday morning. The VLT station at Rio’s Santos Dumont regional airport was closed and sealed off for two hours when a rucksack was left unattended. TV Globo reported that it was a false alarm.
Rio 2016 athletes ran into more trouble on Rio’s roads. The G1 news site reported a Korean cyclist had been hit by a car on a road near the Vista Chinesa, or Chinese View, a popular beauty spot with views of the city and sea. Kim Ok-Cheol suffered light injuries, the site said.
The steep road he was training on leads into the Tijuca Forest where Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue is located. The area is popular with weekend cyclists because it is relatively quiet. Road markings indicate that the road is a cycle path, but also that it is shared with cars — an arrangement some transportation experts have criticized because while it allows city hall to claim it has built more cycle paths, it does not offer sufficient protection to cyclists.
British cyclist Lizzie Armitstead won an appeal against an anti-doping violation, clearing the world road race champion to compete in Rio. Armitstead missed three doping tests in a 12-month period, triggering a charge by U.K. Anti-Doping, a provisional suspension and the possibility of a two-year ban. . . .
Fourth-ranked Stan Wawrinka withdrew from the Olympics because of injury, leaving the Rio Games without half of the ATP’s top 10. Another Swiss tennis player, Belinda Bencic, also pulled out.