Today, with Rio at center stage, I can say that in all the years I have lived here, I’ve never seen the cariocas prouder.

It seems like only yesterday that the locals — although happy to welcome the athletes and visitors with open arms — weren’t really all that interested in the Olympics. They were either too focused on protesting or they simply didn’t care.

Now, midway through the games, I have never experienced what I am seeing in Rio. It’s as if the revolt and indifference have morphed into a collective euphoria.

There is a palpable feeling of pride in the air that I never imagined, nor dreamed, would come with Rio 2016. The opening ceremony showed the world what Rio can do, and I think no one was more surprised than the cariocas themselves.

The atmosphere is absolutely electric. Cariocas are smiling at the world and saying, not with malice but with pride: “You’re not from Rio? Oh, what a shame…” After all, the natives tend to be a bit arrogant; look where they live.

Cariocas are intoxicated with the games. They are in the streets because they want to watch; they want to be a part of this historic moment that is taking place on their home turf.

Rather than evaporating from sight as they customarily do when it rains, cariocas have been out in droves, happily getting drenched while waiting in line for a chance to witness a match between teams from countries that some have probably never even heard of before. They are packing the stadiums, patriotically waving flags, boisterously cheering not only for Brazil, but for all the athletes, as if to say “You’re at home, do me proud.”

Conversations in botecos and in the street are peppered with comments such as “Tuvalu? Where’s that?” It’s as if the entire world has magically parachuted into their backyard.

Green murky pools, lackluster food, sporadic hot showers: that’s not the point. The athletes and visitors have been overwhelmed by the warmth and enthusiasm they’ve received every step of the way. And for this the cariocas have a right to be proud. Not only have they put on a good show, they’ve shown the world that, in spite of all the challenges, they’ve managed to pull off the happiest Olympiad ever. I’m loving it.

Olhares Olímpicos – Originally published on 16 Aug 2016