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Pan Am Games Underway in Rio de Janeiro


More than 5,500 athletes from 42 nations and territories are in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, competing in the Pan American Games. The games, which opened Friday, will last for about two weeks. As VOA's David Byrd reports from Rio, the host city has as much at stake as any of the athletes going for gold.

Rio de Janeiro is putting its best face forward as athletes gather from across the Western hemisphere for 16 days of competition. The bustling Brazilian city is making sure the more than 500,000 tourists who attend the games will have a time they will never forget.

The city is no stranger to hosting huge events -- every year more than a million people flock to the city for Carnival.

Sugarloaf Mountain overlooks the city and offers tourists a panoramic view of most of Rio, including Leblon, Copacabana, Centro, and Ipanema.

Rio's Maracana stadium -- the site of the Pan American Games' opening and closing ceremonies -- is one of the top football venues in the world.

The city's famous beaches draw sun worshippers by the thousands. Copacabana Beach is the site for the Pan Am's Beach Volleyball competition. Copcabana also hosted one of the recent Live Earth concerts.

Rio also has the distinction of owning one of the new Seven Wonders of the World -- the Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks the city.

Rio has spent nearly $2 billion preparing for the Pan Ams. But that investment is not just for these games. Rio is bidding to host the Olympic games in 2016. Though the cosmopolitan city has bid for the Olympics before, it has never made the final round.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge says that Rio stands as good a chance as anyone. "Having seen the infrastructure this will leave a tremendous legacy for Rio, not just for the 16 days of competition but for decades to come, for many generations who will benefit from this legacy,” says Rogge. “And I think in this aspect it is socially warranted and responsible."

Rio 2007 organizing committee head, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, says that all is ready for this month's competition and that Rio is ready to host the world. “Everything is ready with the exception of some adjustments that need to be made for the television broadcasts, but everything else is ready," says Nuzman.

But Rio also has to overcome a darker side of life if it is to host the Olympics. Earlier this month, 19 people were killed when police raided the Complexo do Alemao favela, one of the slums that line the city's hillsides. More than 15,000 extra police and paramilitary units are patrolling the city and protecting the venues to ensure safety.

Rio is hoping the Pan Am games will also help Brazil's bid to host the World Cup football tournament in 2014.

Since the Olympics have never been in South America, and with two Olympics in a row in Europe -- London in 2012 and Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Games, a non-European candidate stands a good chance of hosting the summer games in 2016.

The competition is sure to be a tough one. In addition to Rio and Chicago, Madrid, Spain; Tokyo, Japan; Doha, Qatar; and Baku, Azerbaijan are expected to bid. The host city is chosen in October of 2009. Rio is hoping that the International Olympic Committee sees these Pan American Games as an example of its ability to host the world.