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PREVIEW Rio Olympics to get underway hoping to shake off build-up woes By John Bagratuni, dpa

Europe
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Rio de Janeiro hosts the first Olympics in South America from Friday onwards - with organizers and Olympic officials hoping to shake off massive problems from the run-up which ranged from economic and political problems to a Russian doping crisis.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and American swimmer Michael Phelps aim to cement their status as Olympic icons when the Rio Games finally get underway on Friday amid turmoil on various fronts.

The first Games in South America takes place against the backdrop of a major political and economic crisis in the host country of Brazil, fears of the Zika virus and a major doping scandal surrounding sports superpower Russia.

A low-key opening ceremony is to start the action for some 10,500 athletes from 206 countries who will compete for 306 gold medals in venues including the iconic Copacabana Beach and Maracana Stadium but also the polluted Guanabara Bay.

"Rio is ready to deliver history," organizing committee chief Carlos Nuzman defiantly told the Session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Wednesday as he was peppered with questions from concerned Olympians on various aspects of the delivery of the Games.

IOC president Thomas Bach sprung to Rio‘s defence as the German top official oversees his first Summer Games since being elected in 2013.

"We see the reality in this country, the difficulties. We have always been in solidarity with the organizing committee and the Brazilians. Now we have to together deliver a great Games in great unity and in great cooperation," Bach said.

Rio landed the Olympics in a final vote over Madrid in 2009 - with the country an emerging power at the time with a booming economy.

But as the years went by organizers were bogged down by construction delays and corruption allegations amid a collapsing economy which sees Brazil now facing its worst recession since the 1930s - a bad blow for the Games with an overall budget of 12 billion dollars, of which roughly 60 per cent came from the private sector.

It also didn‘t help that Brazil‘s president Dilma Rousseff faces an impeachment trial, with interim president Michel Temer now the man to formally declare the Games open at the Maracana.

But there are hopes the problems will be glossed over by the athletes once the competition starts in earnest on Saturday.

Phelps is already the most successful Olympian of all time with 18 gold medals, two silvers and two bronze, and he came out of retirement to seek more silverware at his fifth Games, including a fourth straight 100-metre butterfly gold.

Phelps, who is also the American flag bearer on Friday, dismissed suggestions his final big event could end up in failure because "I‘m having fun again. I‘m enjoying what I‘m doing again."

Jamaica‘s Bolt meanwhile has already made history with back-to-back Olympic sprint trebles 2008 and 2012 but will continue working on his legendary status when he takes to the track for the 100m, 200m and 4x100m, despite a recent hamstring injury setback.

Bolt is even more determined after American rival Justin Gatlin highlighted he only made it to Rio via a medical exemption because he missed the Jamaican trials.

"They will feel my full wrath as always," Bolt vowed.

Gatlin can compete despite serving doping suspensions in the past but that does not apply to a host of Russians with a doping history - as part of an IOC ruling after widespread and state-sponsored doping in Russia was exposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency last month.

The IOC refrained from a blanket ban - like the athletics body IAAF did apply on Russia - and rather set strict criteria for Russian athletes to compete in Rio.

More than 250 of them are now set to compete but the team misses, among others, pole vault queen Yelena Isinbayeva.

Also absent from the Games are Swiss tennis star Roger Federer (injury) and a host of golf stars including the world‘s top four of Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.

Several golf stars cited the Zika virus as the reason to stay at home but organizers and the World Health Organization insist the risk of a mass outbreak of the virus spread by mosquitoes is low in the current Brazilian winter.

Golf returns to the Olympics and rugby seven makes its debut at the Rio Games which are safeguarded by some 85,000 security forces.

Around half a million visitors are expected to get a taste of the sport and of the Brazilian lifestyle, similar to the 2014 football World Cup which was a big success after major fears in the run-up.

IOC coordination committee chair Nawal el Moutawakel is convinced that the 16 days will be "a celebration of sports and of life in a away only Cariocas (Rio locals) can do."

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