Hours after the Olympic flag was lowered in Sochi, many eyes were already fixed on Rio de Janeiro, the city of sun, samba and soccer — and soon the host of the 2016 Summer Games.
Rio is set to bask in the global spotlight with back-to-back hosting duties for two of the crown jewels of the sporting world. "Futbol" fans will descend on the Brazilian city for soccer's World Cup this June — and just two years later, the Olympic torch will blaze in sparkly Rio.
But amid the fanfare greeting these mega-events, local officials are faced with big-league financial headaches and a chorus of public complaints, leaving many asking: Will Rio be ready in 2016?
The bustling metropolitan capital — the first South American city to host the Summer Games — is feeling the heat from Olympics officials worried about busting budgets, delayed construction projects and sewage-filled waters around the site of the future Olympic Park.
Brazil is scrambling to avoid the embarrassment Russia suffered amid reports of filthy water, unheated hotel rooms, stray dogs, balky toilets and other logistical quirks. But the preparations come with challenges.
Sailing in a swamp?
Officials are struggling to clean up the polluted Guanabara Bay in time for it to host marquee sailing events.
"It's just a huge bay of sewage," Leona Deckelbaum, an environment protester, told NBC News, adding that the fecal matter in the water is nearly 200 times higher than the legal limit in the United States.
Mario Tama / Getty Images file
Boats float along the shoreline of the polluted waters of Guanabara Bay on Jan. 21, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Experts say the trash-filled waters could pose major health risks to athletes and cast a sickly pall over what organizers hope will be a signature event. According to the Deputy State Secretary of Environment, a mere 34 percent of Rio's sewage is treated while the remainder flows untreated into the waters.
Environmental campaigners have pushed officials to do something about abandoned furniture in the bay and armies of dead fish floating in a city lake.
Rio's Olympic committee has promised that pollution will be fixed in time for the Opening Ceremony. And the mayor of Rio told NBC News that he is "pushing" to get the city in tip-top shape for its time in the sun.
"This is one of our biggest challenges," Eduardo Paes told NBC News. "We can — we have to — show we can deal with these things."
He added: "I can guarantee these games will be ready on time. One hundred percent. And I can guarantee you, that this is going to be the greatest legacy in Olympics history."
Public backlash may mar 2016
At the moment, however, some have said the 2016 Games have created an atmosphere of popular unrest and political tension. The skyrocketing cost of hosting the Olympics just two years after this summer's World Cup has sparked the worst riots in decades.
Some have charged politicians with ignoring public services as the city tries to raise its global profile and draw top-tier investors.
"It is money that should be spent on education, health, public safety, transportation and housing," Maria Lopes Cruz, a 35-year-old manicurist in Sao Paulo, told The Associated Press. "We spend most of the year paying high taxes, and for what? To pay for the World Cup, so that we could look pretty before the world?"
Matt Dunham / AP file
Brazil arrives during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7, 2014.
Many are angry that thousands of Rio's poorest citizens have been evicted from their homes so officials can use the land to build towering Olympic facilities. Wanderson Guimaraes told NBC News he fears his family is next. "Brazil has the Olympics," he said. "But no justice."
And the redevelopment projects have been hit by various setbacks. Just four of the total 52 construction efforts outlined by the Public Olympic Authority are complete, The Wall Street Journal reported, forcing builders to race against the clock.
Officials contacted by NBC News said Rio will be ready by the Opening Ceremony — even if, as the international organizing committee says, the city will need "constant supervision."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
First published February 23 2014, 4:34 PM