RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — On a corner outside the athlete's village, a soldier carrying an automatic weapon tried his best to keep from smiling as he posed for a cameraman trying to put a face on security at the Olympics.
All is not quite fun and games just yet in Rio, though beleaguered organizers are hoping that changes soon. Most competitions begin Saturday and, barring a potential disaster, the discussion may actually turn from the problems of Rio to sports from badminton to basketball in an extravaganza that only the world's biggest sporting event can bring.
It will happen in a city of astonishing beauty and incredible poverty. It will happen despite worries about everything from virus-carrying mosquitoes to gun-toting criminals.
And it will happen with some athletes eyeing each other carefully, not knowing if the playing field is truly level.
The Rio Olympics open with a lot more at stake than gold medals and national pride. Not since Los Angeles rescued the troubled movement with a stripped-down version of the games in 1984 has there been more trepidation about the future of the massive sporting event.
Some issues, like the Zika mosquitoes, were out of the control of the International Olympic Committee. Others were things they simply failed to control, like the rampant dopers who have made a mockery of the Olympic movement itself.
Bowing down to Vladimir Putin and allowing Russian athletes to remain in the games may have prevented a full-blown Cold War from breaking out among Olympic nations. But it also highlighted a schism between Olympic officials and those running the World Anti-Doping Agency, bringing into question their commitment to clean sport.
It also exposed the IOC as a spineless organization more bent on self-preservation than on ensuring cheaters are not allowed in any Olympic sport.
Disappointing, but hardly surprising.
These are the same people, you might remember, who awarded the first Olympics in South America to Rio in 2009, buying without question the promise that in seven years Rio would somehow clean up waters long polluted by raw sewage and build mass transportation systems to whisk people around town.
Instead, the city's highways are a logjam and on Saturday athletes will row their way through the slimy and dangerous waters of Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, where hastily erected barricades and garbage collection boats will be on duty so that television viewers from around the world won't have to see just how filthy the water really is.
It's enough to make some of the stuffed shirts at the IOC a bit unsettled.
"How worried should we be?" Prince Albert of Monaco asked his fellow IOC members this week.
Plenty worried, though about seven years too late. Every Olympics has its issues — few thought Athens would ever be able to pull off the 2004 Games — but there are so many facing Rio that there will be a collective sigh of relief if everything has gone off mostly as planned when the Olympics end in just over two weeks.
Indeed, IOC President Thomas Bach envisions clear sailing for the Olympic movement if that happens.
"If this model stands such a stress test like it had to here in Brazil, then you can see that this model is more than robust," Bach said.
NBC for one isn't worried. The Olympics have long been little more than a long-running prime-time summer TV show and the network that paid $1.2 billion for the games says it will make money on this edition.
Rather than cutting into ad sales, the stories about crime, Zika and Brazil's economic and political woes have actually increased them. And the backdrop for these games will be a director's dream, with stunning views from venues around the city, including beach volleyball on the famed Copacabana Beach.
The billions in TV revenue have padded the IOC coffers and increased its appetite for adding sports to an already bloated program that for some incomprehensible reason now includes golf. The newest for Tokyo will be sport climbing, surfing and skateboarding, efforts to lure younger viewers into the games while traditional track and field and other sports are in decline.
It may turn out that Bach is right. Barring a terrorist attack or mass illness of rowers and sailors, Rio — for all its myriad of problems — may be remembered as a success.
Proof that no matter how incompetently they're managed, the Olympics are simply too big to fail.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg