Rio far from the worst host choice in Olympic history

Controversy surrounded Mexico City games in 1968

The Olympic flag is raised during the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Friday, Aug. 5, 2016. (Ruben Sprich/Reuters)
The Olympic flag is raised during the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Friday, Aug. 5, 2016. (Ruben Sprich/Reuters)

Editor’s note: Tom Ecker of Cedar Rapids is an Olympic historian.

In 2009, when Rio de Janeiro was selected to host the 2016 Olympic Games, there was singing and dancing in the streets of Rio. National pride clearly was at stake as Rio, the first city in South America chosen to host the Games, had secured its place in Olympic history.

But during the next seven years, Rio suffered many setbacks, including an economic crash that caused widespread unemployment. During the crisis, many Brazilians were left without paychecks, including the police. As a result, robberies and violent crimes escalated. Add to that the threat of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, and it all combined to result in a great reduction in ticket sales and attendance.

Many now say that Rio was the worst choice ever as an Olympic host.

But, with all its problems, was it really the worst Olympic choice ever?

The most controversial Olympic site was Mexico City in 1968.

Coaches, athletes, sports scientists, and doctors agreed that the rarefied air in a city almost 1 miles (7,573 feet) above sea level would restrict performances in all endurance events, leaving even the best of sea level athletes gasping for air.

Another concern in 1968 was the abject poverty in Mexico. The issue of poverty led to a student rebellion over the spending of money on the Olympics, which many Mexicans considered a waste while poverty was ignored; 260 students died in the Mexico City rebellion.

As it turned out, so many problems plagued the 1968 Games, the Mexico Olympics later would be described as even more political than the 1936 Games of Nazi Germany.

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