Rio gripped with Olympic fever
Ronaldo and athletes hope for an unforgettable experience
REPORTING FROM RIO
Barcelona were perhaps the club where he played football with the most freedom outside of his days growing up in Brazil.
Fearless and wearing a smile, he scored goals for fun, showing off uncanny balance and supreme confidence as he Tomba-ed his way past opposing players, like the legendary Italian Olympic skiing slalom champion.
Ronaldo was also a phenomenon at PSV Eindhoven, Inter Milan and Real Madrid but, if there was a unique relationship between club and player, then it was with Barcelona and maybe I shouldn't have been surprised when I spotted him strolling onto the Singapore Airlines flight in the Catalan city airport bound for Sao Paulo.
Sports-mad Brazilians are all either bound for Rio de Janeiro or will begin to focus on the city in earnest starting this week, as the 2016 Olympics prepares for the opening ceremony on Saturday morning (Singapore time), followed by two weeks of action in 28 sports, with a troubled host nation praying to exhale with relief, and joy even, at the end of it all on Aug 21.
As I shook hands with Ronaldo near the end of the flight, I asked the 2002 World Cup winner if Brazil will be ready and, flashing that famous toothy smile, he said "yes".
"Brazil people happy people, it'll be okay," he said.
As for the country's well-documented chase of a first Olympic men's football gold medal, one of the country's greatest strikers again grinned.
"I don't know, team with Neymar are good, but many good teams in this Olympics and it's equal who can win, I think," he said.
Many of the world's sportsmen and sportswomen are already in Rio, others continue to make their way to the world-renowned city, the famous and the not so famous who join forces every four years and give life to an Olympic Games.
Singapore's badminton team, sprinter Timothee Yeo and woman's marathon competitor Neo Jie Shi arrived here on Monday night with Ronaldo, each with their own goals, no medals on their mind but personal targets to accomplish, I hope.
A phalanx of Kazakhstan athletes and officials flew from Sao Paulo into Rio with the rest of us, along with Syrians and Iranians and Peruvians.
I don't know if any will be contenders, but I am sure all will be hoping for an experience of a lifetime.
Over these next few days, like sprint king Usain Bolt, Spain basketball star Pau Gasol, and US swim icons Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, they will all rest and recharge, settle in to strange surroundings, go through light workout sessions, to be at their best when their names are called for athletic battle.
Team Singapore's 25 athletes, led by swimming hopeful Joseph Schooling and table tennis star Feng Tianwei, will do the same.
Meanwhile, organisers will be striving to get the city operating at its best, even as Rio mayor Eduardo Paes admits the Games will not be perfect because of Brazil's economic crisis.
As I took the press ride from the airport to my hotel, I told the driver I needed a cold beer after nearly 30 hours of travelling from Singapore.
He laughed and said he understood.
As he sped through the highways and side streets, he suddenly slowed down and pointed to the world wonder, the statue of Christ the Redeemer, looking down on the city.
As the clock ticks down to Saturday morning, anyone with a love for sport, will hope Rio, host of South America's first Olympic Games, delivers.
And fulfil Ronaldo's words.
S'pore flag raised in village
WELCOME: Singapore sailor Colin Cheng posing for a photo at a wall depicting a scenery of Rio. The Singapore flag was raised at the Games Village in a ceremony attended by chef de mission Low Teo Ping and athletes yesterday.
WELCOME: Singapore sailor Colin Cheng posing for a photo at a wall depicting a scenery of Rio. The Singapore flag was raised at the Games Village in a ceremony attended by chef de mission Low Teo Ping (above, in red jacket) and athletes yesterday. PHOTOS: ST
Safe and sound, all 25 Team Singapore athletes have arrived in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics.
After checking into Tower 16 of the Games Village Plaza alongside Japan's contingent, they were officially welcomed to the Rio Olympics yesterday.
The flag-raising ceremony was attended by windsurfers Audrey Yong, Leonard Ong, sailor Colin Cheng, track and field representatives Timothee Yap and Neo Jie Shi and several Team Singapore officials, while the other athletes were at training.