Rio 2016: Olympic athletics competition gets underway in empty stadium

Jessica Ennis Hill and Katarina Johnson Thompson began their quests for heptathlon glory in front of many empty seats

Tom Peck
Friday 12 August 2016 15:45
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Many empty seats were seen on the first morning at the Joao Havelange Stadium
Many empty seats were seen on the first morning at the Joao Havelange Stadium

The Olympic athletics competition is underway, in a wet stadium that was almost entirely empty.

The entire top tier and most of the lower tier of the 60,000 capacity Joao Havelange Stadium was deserted as Great Britain’s Jessica Ennis Hill and Katarina Johnson Thompson started the action in the 100m hurdle event of the women’s heptathlon.

Four years ago, Ennis-Hill broke the World Best time in the event in front of a packed and noisy crowd. But morning sessions of Olympic athletics competition, in which no medal races or finals traditionally take place, had never sold out prior to London 2012.

IAAF president Sebastian Coe has said he was expecting some empty seats, saying there had been "issues around scheduling.” Many finals will not start until very late at night, largely for the benefit of the US TV market.

The IOC even agreed to change the schedules so that, for the first time ever, some finals will occur in the morning session, including the women’s 10,000m which will take place on Friday afternoon at 3.10pm UK time.

Organisers had hoped to sell last minute discounted tickets at the last minute, but Brazil has no history of success and very little interest in track and field. Such a strategy is too late for travelling fans put off by the higher prices which originally were all that was available.

The cheapest athletics tickets were around £20, the most expensive more than 1,000. But Rio de Janeiro’s population is significantly smaller than London’s and significantly less rich.

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It is also the first time the athletics events have taken place in a different and smaller venue to the opening ceremony.

Jessica Ennis-Hill completed the 100m hurdles in 12.84 seconds - 0.3 of a second slower than her blistering time in London, but, according to her coach Toni Minichello, her quickest time since the birth of her son Reggie two years ago. The hurdles is traditionally her strongest event, but she is nevertheless odds on favourite to retain her 2012 title.

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