It wasn't till Tuesday that Brazil breathed and Rio celebrated. That sentiment of joy was finally tangible and palpable at the women’s volleyball event, where pre-tournament favourites and hosts Brazil crushed Argentina 3-0.

The Maracanazinho is an intimate little volleyball stadium, in the shadow of its elliptical behemoth brother, the Maracana. Hence the perfectly appropriate name “Little Maracana”. The venue lies a bit eerily in a corner of the Maracana complex. Inside, there is a murkiness to the meandering corridors and nondescript interior.

Once you see the court, an oasis of light and impressions hits you, from the cacophonous sounds of the crowd and the overzealous DJ, blasting music through the speakers to the South Koreans valiantly resisting the Russians for five sets.

One hour before Brazil took on their local rivals, the Maracanazinho was jam-packed with fans, donned in omnipresent yellow shirts and draped in Brazilian flags. Yet this was different from the anti-septic atmosphere that had pervaded half-empty stadiums across the city.

A lukewarm reception

Throughout the entire week, even swimming, a guaranteed Olympic blockbuster, suffered from Brazil’s lukewarm reception to the Olympic Games. On the second night when three world records were broken, starring British sensation Adam Peaty, the impeccable Sarah Sjöström from Sweden, barnstorming American Katie Ledecky, and of course, swimming demigod Michael Phelps, the ambience remained strangely sterile, with Brazilians neutral to the empyreal achievements in the pool. There were swathes of empty seats scattered across the venue.

At the hockey, shooting, track cycling and other “tropical” sports, the crowds have been thin, with a distinct foreign make-up. At the first session of athletics, the atmosphere at the Olympic stadium was anti-climatic.

Brazilians, who are obsessed with winning and not so much with sports, have also been accused of not honouring the Olympic spirit, or what remains of it with the International Olympic Committee’s joyless track record. At many of the venues, Brazilian spectators have booed and jeered, which was a rare occurrence at previous Olympics, where opponents of the hosts always received minimum, if not due, consideration.

Brazilian fans fought with their Argentine counterparts during Argentinean tennis player Juan Martin del Potro’s second round win over Portugal’s Joao Sousa. They have not hesitated to import the often grating atmosphere of “futebol” matches to the Olympic venues.

Brazilian domestic football matches can be very rowdy, with plenty of mocking and scoffing, all spurred by an often inebriated state of mind. Insults, hostility and racism are not unusual at the Sao Januario Stadium, the Paecambu Stadium and other football grounds across Brazil.

“We need to balance passion with elegance,” said Mario Andrade, the Rio 2016 spokesman. Organisers have enforced silence when required.

National pride

At the Maracanzinho though, that rowdiness was absent. Throughout the match, the stadium was a little cauldron, stirred by supreme athletic skills and emotions, gloriously raucous and light jingoism, with the compulsory courtesy of welcoming the Argentines disapprovingly.

Yet, the revived ambience may have a twofold explanation: finally, the Olympic Games had begun, with the focus shifting from all the doomsday scenarios and apocalyptic problems –to the actual sports. The icy global media coverage is not fading, but eulogies about the performances are taking over television bulletins and newspaper stories.

And, then, of course, judoka Rafaela Silva won Brazil’s first gold of these Games last Monday. The Carioca Arena 2, where the judo finals took place, reached alarming combustion levels as Silva prevailed in the 57 kg women’s final against Mongolia’s Dorjsurengiin Sumiya. “Raaa-faaeee-lllllllla,” chanted the fans.

At last, the host nation had been liberated. On Day 1, Felipe Wu had nearly won gold for Brazil, but he succumbed in agonising fashion to Hoang Vinh from Vietnam in the 10 metre air pistol final. Silva’s win ignited Brazilian pride and chauvinism.

Her gold medal was symbolic. Silva grew up in Rio de Janeiro’s infamous favela Cidade de Deus. At London 2012, the Brazilian suffered racial abuse after her disqualification. “I insisted judo is my life [after 2012],” she said in a press conference on Monday. “People told me: ‘The place for you is as a monkey in a cage,’ but my place is in sports, in judo.”

Silva represents the “Bramerican dream” – Brazil, a country of endless opportunities, where everyone can make it. The gold medal once again portrays Brazil, at least very momentarily, as an egalitarian society and a success story, the way former president Lula da Silva had envisaged it when Brazil won the right to host the Olympic Games back in 2009.

The sporting sentiment of these Olympic Games remains frail, however. Brazilians are interested in their athletes. They do not care for the achievements of Indian, German or Mongolian sportspersons. Rio has not embraced the event the way Londoners did in 2012. At least, the myth that Brazilians are raving sports-mad fans has been pierced.