When the municipal velodrome was inaugurated here for the 2007 Pan American Games, it was the first training space for competitive indoor cyclists in the city. The wooden floors of the $7 million structure were the best quality in the country, as velodromes in the Brazilian states of São Paulo and Paraná were made of concrete.
Athletes took to the space, and Brazilians began winning medals. A cycling school in the velodrome that trained about 100 children from low-income communities had identified a girl with “absurd potential,” said Claudio Santos, the president of the Rio de Janeiro state cycling federation.
Nearly six years later, the velodrome was demolished, and now a new one is being built as Rio de Janeiro spends billions construcing facilities to host the Summer Olympics in nearly a year with the opening ceremony on Aug. 5, 2016. This city of 6.4 million has undergone a decade of face-changing transformations to prepare for mega-sporting events such as the Olympics, Pan American Games and soccer’s World Cup last summer. However, the process has been anything but efficient, with venues being constructed only to be razed or renovated in preparation for next year’s Games.
“On the eve of the Olympics, we have had no space for training,” Santos said.
Brazilian cyclists find themselves training in Switzerland for the Olympics that will be held in their own country. Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes had once dismissed the notion of demolishing the velodrome as wasteful, but he changed course following his re-election in 2012, saying that the cost to rehab it to meet Olympic standards would be about the same as building a new one.
Although Brazil’s strong economy and political stability was a selling point in hosting the first Olympics in South America, a sharp economic downturn and widespread corruption scandal have shifted attitudes toward hosting big events.
Many cariocas, as locals are called, have embraced key infrastructure projects such as expanded public transportation, but others question the planning behind the construction boom, not to mention the ballooning tab the events pass on to taxpayers.