Brazilian sailors delivered the Olympic torch to Rio de Janeiro’s mayor on Wednesday, two days before South America’s first Olympic Games open.
After a 20,000-km (12,400-mile) journey through the vast nation, the torch crossed Guanabara Bay in a sailboat piloted by former medallists, in a nod to one of the competitions where the host country has claimed Olympic glory.
The flame landed on terra firma at 9:15am, while just kilometres away 450 heavily armed police battled drug traffickers in the Alemao slum, a major operation and reminder of Rio’s security struggles.
In addition to security concerns, the Olympics come to Brazil amid the country’s worst recession in at least a quarter century and an ongoing impeachment trial of a suspended president.
Mayor Eduardo Paes took the torch on its first laps through the streets of downtown Rio, known locally as “the marvelous city.” The flame also took a ride on the recently inaugurated light rail and passed in front of the city’s century-old Municipal Theatre.
From the centre of Rio, the symbol of the world’s largest sporting event will pass through surrounding towns and return to the city centre on Thursday ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony in the famed Maracanã stadium, site of the World Cup final in 2014.
The torch, which arrived in Brazil on May 3, spurred some minor demonstrations in smaller cities in Rio de Janeiro state, though residents of Rio said they were eager to show the world their city is ready for the international spotlight.
“The expectations are huge… I think everything will go right, in terms of the Games as well as public safety,” said Reginaldo Santos da Silva, 40, as he watched the torch pass.
While the torch’s tour through 300 cities has generally been smooth, it did spur an international outcry when authorities had to shoot a jaguar after the animal escaped from its handlers at a ceremony in the Amazon city of Manaus.
The name of the final torch bearer is a closely guarded secret, but fooball legend Pele said on Tuesday he been invited to light the Olympic pyre on Friday and was checking availability with his sponsors.