RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - American high jumper Chaunte Lowe paid her own way to Rio de Janeiro, and picked up the tab for a hotel for this weekend’s test event in track and field - the last of more than 40 test events with South America’s first Olympics starting in less than three months.
Lowe will try in July to qualify for her fourth Olympics, finishing sixth in the last two. She also made it to Athens, but failed to reach the finals.
This trip was to check out what’s ahead.
“I feel like it’s an investment if you want to succeed and do well here,” she said Saturday, standing on the two-tone blue track at Olympic Stadium in the northern Rio neighborhood of Engenho de Dentro. “It’s an investment in yourself, and it was worth it for me.”
Lowe is among hundreds of athletes competing in the refurbished stadium this weekend in the Ibero-American Championships. A small event, maybe, but it’s a big test for an Olympics already under siege.
There’s the threat of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, slow ticket sales, deep cuts in the operational budget and state security budget - and almost no sense around town that the world’s biggest sporting event is coming to Rio. No billboards, no kiosks selling Olympic paraphernalia, no buzz.
Brazil is also mired in its worst recession since the 1930s, and President Dilma Rousseff has been suspended for 180 days while the federal senate prepares to hear her impeachment trial.
Lowe was not distracted, focused on her first Olympic medal.
“That would be completion,” she said.
She won Saturday’s high jump with a leap of 1.96 meters (6-5), well off her American record of 2.05 (6-8 1/2).
“Every time I go I have a really hard time adjusting to the new surface,” said Lowe, who has won gold, silver and bronze in the World Championships. “So I wanted to come early and feel it. There are adjustments that needed to be made, and I made those adjustments. Now I feel very confident going into the games.”
Asked what she learned about the new, springy surface, Lowe replied: “I’m not going to tell anybody. They should have come here themselves.”
As for the other stuff, Lowe said she hasn’t seen a mosquito, though she cautioned against taking risks.
The World Health Organization has advised pregnant women against traveling to Zika areas, with Brazil at the epicenter of the outbreak. The Zika virus has been scientifically shown to cause birth defects in newborns.
Lowe already has three children - ages 2, 5 and 8.
“I had my children early, it’s not so much of a concern to me,” she said. “You obviously take precautions, Don’t be around still water. Put on some spray. But at the same time you train your whole life for this.”
Rio will have two stadiums. There’s the legendary Maracana in northern Rio where the soccer final, and the opening and closing ceremony take place.
Still farther north in a working-class part of town is the Olympic Stadium for athletics.
The city of Rio de Janeiro still calls the venue the Joao Havelange Olympic Stadium, named for the disgraced former head of FIFA and a former IOC member who resigned as the Olympic movement seemed ready to expel him for ethics violations.
Olympic officials have dropped his name for the games. He turned 100 a week ago in Rio.
Built for the 2007 Pan Am Games, the stadium’s seating capacity has been increased from 45,000 to 60,000. It’s compact, and fans and photographers should get good views. Saturday’s test drew only 1,000, but they were loud.
“It’s a smaller stadium, but there is a small group of people over there and they are so loud and so animated,” Lowe said, gesturing to the stands along the 100-meter straightaway. “It lets you know this stadium is going to be electrifying when the games are here. When I came out I felt tears because they were so excited to see us.”
Agberto Guimaraes, the executive sports director of the organizing committee, competed in three Olympics, finishing fourth at 800 meters in the 1980 Moscow Games - two places behind Britain’s Sebastian Coe.
“Fourth is the worst,” he said. “If you have to pick one, be last not fourth.”
Guimaraes discounted the problems plaguing Rio, and said he’d tested the track.
“I didn’t run. I jogged a little bit,” the 58-year-old said. “It’s a different thing.”
Stephen Wade on Twitter: https://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/stephen-wade
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