With one day to go until opening ceremony, Olympic torch makes epic journey across Rio de Janeiro

Local sports stars, international Olympians, samba dancers, refugees and even a Nobel Peace Prize winner were among the torchbearers.

One of the longest days of the Rio 2016 Olympic torch relay saw the ancient symbol of the Games travel to the western and northern edges of Rio de Janeiro before visiting the glamorous beach neighbourhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema.

On Friday (5 August), the last day of the relay, the torch will visit the most celebrated landmarks of central and southern Rio, including Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer, before making its final journey to the Maracanã for the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

On Thursday, the relay started in the athletes' village itself, located in Barra da Tijuca near the largest cluster of Olympic venues. Athletes from every continent ran with the torch, as well as a volunteer working at the village and one athlete representing the refugee team.

Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, a 21-year-old refugee from South Sudan, was visibly moved by the occasion. "It is an amazing opportunity to represent all the refugees who are suffering in the world," she said. "The torch is a symbol of peace and hope. It is wonderful that it is calling attention to our cause."

The torch relay then moved on to the semi-deserted beach of Macumba in the westernmost reaches of the Olympic city. First to carry the torch was local surf legend Rico de Souza, who caught some early morning waves during his leg of the relay. Big wave specialist Maya Gabeira also had a turn with the torch.
Brazilian goalscoring machine Romário accompanied his 11-year-old daughter, who carried the torch (Photo: Rio 2016/Fernando Soutello)
On the 18-km long beach of Barra da Tijuca, some of the biggest names in Brazilian sport carried the torch, including World Cup winners Cafu, Carlos Alberto Parreira and Mário Zagallo. The frail, 84-year-old Zagallo was the first person to win the World Cup both as a player and as a manager.

Another one of Brazilian football's greatest talents, Rio de Janeiro-born Romário, was there supporting a very special torchbearer: 11-year-old daughter Ivy Farias, who has Down's syndrome.

It wasn't only Brazilian sporting heroes who ran with the torch over the course of the day. Olympic giants including British cyclist Chris Hoy and Ukrainian pole vaulting icon Sergey Bubka both participated on the penultimate day of the Rio 2016 relay.

"I thought my life in sport was over, but today's event proves otherwise," Hoy said.

As well as sportsmen and women, stars of the Brazilian screen and song were out in force on Thursday. One of the most popular to run was the living legend of Carnival, Viviane Araújo, who has been dancing for nearly 10 years with the Salgueiro samba school from northern Rio.

As the torch relay moved out into Campo Grande, one of Rio's underprivileged western suburbs, one of the most unexpected torchbearers made an an appearance: Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi pioneer of microfinance who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. Microfinance has made a major contribution to the development of the Brazilian economy in recent years, especially in poorer areas such as Campo Grande.

After ending its visit to the western suburbs, the torch relay then moved on to Madureira, a traditional working-class neighbourhood in northern Rio. Samba dancers were again out en masse to commemorate the historic occasion.

From Madureira it was then off to a very different side of the Olympic city – the upmarket neighbourhood of Gávea, followed by the exclusive southern beach districts of Leblon, Ipanema and world-famous Copacabana. Torchbearers included television actors and actresses, celebrity chefs and even a Brazilian supermodel. Across southern Rio, thousands of cariocas and tourists gathered on the streets as Olympic excitement mounted across the city.

Two Rio celebrities from a humbler background also participated in the relay in the south of the city, where huge crowds of revellers came out to watch proceedings and join in the fun. Agnaldo Rodrigues,the Copacabana barbecue chef who organised his own alternative, Bohemian torch relay, ran with the real thing on Thursday night, cheered on by hundreds of late-night partygoers.

As the night drew to a close, David Bispo, owner of the famous Bar do David, waited his turn to carry the torch, marking an extraordinary year: earlier in 2016 his bar, which is located in the Chapéu Mangueira favela in the hills above Copacabana, was named the best place for bar food in all of Rio de Janeiro.

"It's a real privilege to represent a favela at the Olympic Games," Bispo said on Thursday. "I never imagined that this could happen to me. I hope it is an example for young people in Brazil."

Meanwhile in Praça Mauá in the historic and renovated waterfront area of central Rio de Janeiro, the Olympic flame was at the centre of another huge party. This district will be home to the Olympic Boulevard live site during the Games. The largest of three ‘live sites’ in Rio, it will feature three stages with live music, big screens showing the sporting action, more than 230 street art performances and a nightly firework display.

On Thursday night, it was the turn of beautiful Brazilian supermodel Adriana Lima to light a special Olympic cauldron in the heart of the Olympic Boulevard. Overpowered by the emotion of the event and by the support of the crowds, Lima was in tears as the historic night drew to a close.

Model Adriana Lima used the Olympic torch to light a special cauldron in Praça Mauá in central Rio (Photo: Rio 2016/Fernando Soutello)

On Friday, the greatest supermodel of them all, Gisele Bündchen, will be playing a prominent role in the Rio 2016 opening ceremony in the Maracanã, the climax to an extraordinary 95-day torch relay that has showcased the very best of Brazil to the watching world.
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