Learning lessons in Rio for a 2024 Olympics in Los Angeles

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The Rio de Janeiro Olympics officially get underway Friday night. While most people will be focused on the competition, Bill Hanway, an executive vice-president at the design and construction firm AECOM, will be watching how well Rio hosts and applying lessons to L.A.'s Olympic bid.

Hanway helped planned the 2012 London games, and he's worked on the Rio games for the past six years. He's already at work on the 2024 Los Angeles games, even though international Olympic organizers will not announce the host of the 2024 Olympics for another year. (L.A. is competing against Rome, Paris and Budapest.)

Hanway says the toughest part about planning the Rio Olympics has been watching Brazil’s economy decline since it won the bid; The country’s now in its worst recession since the 1930s. It taught him an important lesson – much can change in the years leading up to the Olympics.

“You have to look at financial viability, and you have to be flexible to make changes,” Hanway said.

The problems in Rio have been well-documented – a Zika outbreak that has scared away top athletes, street demonstrations amidst political turmoil, high bacteria levels in the water, and body parts found on the beach where volleyball will be played. 

Still, Hanway remains undeterred. 

"Yes it is challenging, but I remain optimistic the games will be a success," he said. "Certainly everything I’ve seen walking around the city the last few days has led me to believe the games will be successful.”

A recent Oxford University study found the Rio games could over go budget by a billion and a half dollars. Such Olympic overruns have been routine for decades, and the Rio games are actually considered relatively austere compared to recent Olympics in Sochi, London, and Beijing.

Hanway promises Los Angeles would be far more austere because little new construction would be needed. The venues are already built.

“Everything is ready to go,” he said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti is also in Rio, leading a 25-person delegation to help persuade organizers that Los Angeles should host the Olympics in eight years. 

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