Star athletes can make Rio Games special
The likes of Phelps, Schooling and Bolt can make Rio Games a success story
REPORTING FROM RIO
With more than half the Brazilian population hardly in samba mood for these Games, the anxiety of the organisers would have deepened considerably by now.
Protesters have shadowed the Olympic flame as it continues to make its way to the Maracana Stadium, economic peril dominates the minds of many who cry angrily the Games is a colossal waste of money.
Sport should never be like this and it's time for the dreamers to save the legacy of the 2016 Rio Olympics.
It is the grandest stage of all for so many of them, this is the first time the Olympics have called South America home and we depend on the athletes to warm our hearts over the next 16 days. As it should be.
Thadius Katua needs to soothe the soul after riot police fired tear gas at jeering, chanting local teachers, engineers, secretaries and labourers who followed the flame on Wednesday night.
Inspired by his elder brother, who was a national champion, Papua New Guinea's Katua took up boxing four years ago.
He is 18, the youngest male boxer here at the Rio Olympics who will fight in the men's lightweight category.
Rated as an exciting prospect, he said at a press conference yesterday he dreams of winning a medal.
As the 2016 Rio Games prepares for the Olympic flame to burst into life at the opening ceremony tomorrow morning (Singapore time), table tennis player Yu Mengyu is feeling goosebumps.
She is making her debut and cannot wait to walk into the Maracana with the rest of Team Singapore and take it all in, because there is nothing quite like the theatre of the opening night at the Olympics.
Singapore's women's table tennis team have won three medals over the last two Olympics but, this time, the team are much changed, with much less experience, and Yu feels the heat.
But she said yesterday: "I am feeling good now. All I'm doing now is preparing myself mentally for the competition."
She can stir a nation by unleashing her A game here.
On the eve of the Games, the International Olympic Committee continues to dither over the decision on Russia's athletes - this is unprecedented, incomprehensible and has become a farce.
But Michael Phelps can be an almighty balm with another record-breaking performance and, already feeling a warm glow, he seems to be in the mood.
This is his fifth Games, the Sultan of Swim says he's already enjoying himself like never before, as he gets set to fulfil a dream.
Addressing a standing-room only crowd here on Wednesday, he said: "For me to be able to have the opportunity to carry the flag for the United States in the opening ceremony is a dream come true.
"To lead our country into this Olympics is something I honestly thought I would never have the opportunity to do."
Theft continues to haunt the Athletes' Village with uniforms, bags, wallets and shoes going missing.
Singapore chef de mission Low Teo Ping wishes the folks in charge of operations there can be more engaged rater than reactive.
Singapore swim star Joseph Schooling doesn't care.
Hours after arrival here, he was already in the pool, going through his paces as he prepares for his moment of truth against Phelps, no less, and a host of jet-propelled butterfliers.
Revered US magazine Sports Illustrated predicts the 100m butterfly will see Phelps, Laszlo Cseh and Chad le Clos on the podium, but Schooling dreams of gold and says he's capable of upsetting the main cast to become one of the storylines of the Games.
Surely, along with superstars Usain Bolt, Serena Williams and Lee Chong Wei, who can all help us forget the painful build-up to these Games and, inexplicably, turn Rio 2016 into a success story.
The spectre of doping hangs menacingly over the Games. The Zika virus and apparent bacteria infested waters for sailing and open water swimming continue to haunt Rio.
But women's golf's world No. 1 Lydia Ko is wide-eyed with awe and Fiji is united in prayer as the rugby sevens' warriors prepare for a mission to make history.
Like table tennis star Feng Tianwei.
She owns three Olympic medals and stands with badminton great, the late Wong Peng Soon, as Singapore's most successful athletes.
This is her third Games, she is the most experienced member of Team Singapore's 25-strong contingent here, and she said yesterday: "I'm training hard and the next couple of days, I'm focused on who my possible opponents are in the singles.
"I have to admit, though, as the competition draws near, I'm feeling a little nervous."
The Olympics do this, no matter who you are, it is the magic of sport. Brazilians know this, because this is a sports-mad nation.
As I start my day here every morning, teams of uniformed cyclists are already in time trial mode on the streets. Joggers are everywhere, the public fitness areas are busy.
As I journey back to my hotel every night, the bus drivers think they're Ayrton Senna and football is being played everywhere.
Olympic sport is set to kick off once again. Let's hope Brazilians fall in love with it again and, along with Singaporeans and the rest of the world, celebrate athletic feats and endeavour from now.
Because there's nothing else like it.