An extraordinary opening morning session of athletics which included a huge world 10,000 metres record by Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana and the best high-jumping ever seen within a heptathlon competition took place in a 60,000-capacity Olympic Stadium that appeared less than half full.
Despite the excellence of the action on a rainswept morning, the images going out to the wider world of large sections of unused seats were far from being what the Rio 2016 would have hoped for.
Even though London 2012 did not sell out all its morning sessions for athletics, the huge levels of interest generated by the sport four years ago contrasted starkly with the evidence presented on Day 1.
“We understand about 60 percent of tickets were sold for this morning’s session,” a spokesman for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) told insidethegames. “Obviously we like to see a full stadium but the atmosphere here this morning has been great helped along by Ayana’s world record.”
The official estimate from Rio 2016 organizers for tonight’s second session was that 65 per cent of tickets had been sold.
Asked at a press briefing on Wednesday (August 10) if he was confident there would be full houses for the athletics program, IAAF President Sebastian Coe said: “No, I’m not confident we are going to have full houses.
“But the sales have been good.”
Coe added: “Tickets are still available and I would encourage local communities to come, given the feast of athletics we’re going to have here.
“But I understand that some of the scheduling has been challenging.”
Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada said: “We are not disappointed with the athletics ticket sales.
“We knew the fact there are not many local heroes would make a difference…without heroes and local athletes the public take longer to fall in love with track and field.
“But one of the legacies of the Games will be to show Brazilians how spectacular these other sports can be and there will be no problem when Usain Bolt competes on Sunday.”
The high point of the athletics program from the point of view of home supporters has long been anticipated to arrive next Friday (August 19) with the final of the women’s pole vault, where 35-year-old home vaulter Fabiana Murer, world champion in 2011 and world silver medalist last year, is seeking to close her career in glorious circumstances.
The good news – Murer increased her South American record to 4.87 metres last month.
The bad news -she then picked up a cervical herniated disc at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco and has since been receiving intensive physio.
“My doctor reassured me and told that I had time to recover to the Olympics,” she said last week. “I am in intense treatment with physiotherapy and training very well. I’m progressing fast and I am dedicating myself a lot to reach the Olympics 100%.”
Andrada has repeatedly said that the problem in Rio is a result of ticket-holders only wanting see one particular contest in a long session and VIPs not taking up their ticket allocations, perhaps because of long queues to get past security and for refreshments.
Part of the solution, he has claimed, is to invite children from local schools to fill the venues but he has been unable to give any details of when this has actually happened.
Rio 2016 has denied high ticket prices have put Brazilian fans off, as the majority of tickets cost BRL95 (£23/$30/€26) and could be paid for in four interest-free installments.
But there has been criticism that the prices offered to overseas fans were too high, a claim the International Olympic Committee denies.
“We obviously want to see full stadiums,” said IOC Presidential spokesman Mark Adams.”
Could we do more?
“You can always do more.
“The level of sales is pretty good and I think there are tickets for lots of pockets.
“Of course, it’s expensive to come here if you’re coming from Europe, the United States or Asia, but I’ve seen fans from all those places too.”
By Mike Rowbottom
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz