“Enfim, O Raio Do Ouro,” wrote Brazilian daily newspaper O Globo on Sunday. Indeed, "At last, a thunderbolt of gold" had struck. Brazil’s princeling, Neymar, rapidly ascending the pantheon of footballing gods, delivered salvation for the hosts in the football final, punctuated by unbearable drama and concerted passion, notably against the Germans. Brazil, with the gold medal bungling around their necks, were once more the Patria Em Chuteiras, the country in cleats, at least in their own imagination.

On the closing day, the hosts – now in a belated, but newfound gold rush, an Eldorado in Carioca-land – excavated more gold with their volley boys, apart from Serginho, at 40 the nestor of the team, cruising past favorites Italy 3-0. Cue total delirium, pristine chauvinism, trumping the universal aspirations of the Olympic Games, at the Maracanazinho, an intimate little volleyball stadium, in the shadow of its elliptical behemoth brother.

Brazil had won the gold medals that they had craved, longed and yearned for – football and volleyball, the measure of athletic success for the hosts. At last, Rio de Janeiro, and Brazil at large, had embraced these Olympic Games, the four-yearly sporting ultimacy, that had been slow-burning, meandering and confounding, but, at the same time, still a great human, fabled and wretched theatre during a 17-day obsession with badminton, rowing, diving and other understated sports, amid plenty of bussing odysseys, incessant portions of mini-cheesebreads and high-order corporatism – pay with the right credit card for the right soda at understaffed, or overstaffed depending from the view point, food stands.

Um Mundo Novo

The official slogan of Rio 2016 was Um Mundo Novo. The new world. Brazil was briefly allowed into the fenced Euro-American club, a chic and conservative den of neocolonialism – and neo-liberalism, the leading principle at contemporary sporting mega-events. The privileged International Olympic Committee clan, on a $450 (Rs 30,240) daily stipend, which is about twice the Brazilian minimum wage, and $900 (Rs 60,480) if you are an IOC executive member, jetted in and will jet out today with a basic tenet: burden society with the costs, then maximise and privatise the profit.

Back in 2014, world football governing body Fifa excelled at the ploy, generating a $4.6 billion (Rs 30,900 crore) revenue. The IOC has toppled that with $5.6 billion (Rs 37,630 crore), according to leading Brazilian newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo.

Lula da Silva, Brazil’s former president, Sergio Cabral, Rio’s governor, and Eduardo Paes, Rio’s mayor, led the drive for mega-events, together with a swat of dubious entrepreneurs and their acolytes. "Now is our time!" belted Lula when Rio was awarded the Olympic Games in 2009. "It's here! Of the world's 10 largest economies, Brazil is the only country that has not hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games. This will be an unrivaled opportunity for us. It will boost the self-esteem of Brazilians; it will consolidate recent victories; it will stimulate new progress."

But Ordem e Progesso – the tagline in the Brazilian flag – never came, neither did an injection of self-esteem. Brazil’s golden age 2.0 didn’t materialise. In the 1950s and '60s, widespread industrialisation, the mushrooming new capital Brasilia, the avant-garde architect Oscar Niemeyer, footballing glory with Pele and Garrincha, the age of Bossa Nova and many glorious Greek dreams, of literature, free expression and socialist inclination surfaced. Brazil was, as Stefan Zweig once put it, the country of the future, but the military dictatorship curtailed those aspirations.

Today, Brazil’s economy has stalled. Corruption has stifled any progress and has hit the social fabric, or, at least, Brazil’s giant underclass. Paes – codename 171, a reference to "swindling" in article 171 of the Brazilian penal code – has neglected his city to the benefit of a wealthy business elite and real estate projects in the city’s prosperous western zone, Barra da Tijuca, spurring more gentrification in the city’s northern and southern region.

The Olympic Games themselves were mired in controversy with the bad and the outright sleazy – first and foremost, the Russian doping scandal; second and foremost, Ryan Lochte’s night out and Ireland’s Olympic chief Pat Hickey’s ticket tout arrest; and, finally, the niggles that accompany any Olympic Games – rows of empty seats, muggings of team officials, spotty weather, traffic chaos and long travel distances. The initial lack of Carnival atmosphere, the overflow of green water and a stray bullet at a media center caused further ripples.

Athletes save the Games

So, in part, the athletes were left to save the Olympic Games. They did so. Yet, again the Olympic Games were higher, faster and stronger, all part of the Marvelous Mess that was Rio. Usain Bolt, so compelling, sped away one last time at the Summer Games. The sprinter, who is too tall to sprint, yet too fast not to sprint, fulfilled his regal dreams of a ninth symphony and a treble-triple – Bolt emulated Bolt, who emulated Bolt. In the pool, Michael Phelps, the ultimate H2O machine and, like Bolt, another transcendent athlete, the protagonist of a Baltimore sporting fable, and, arguably, the greatest Olympian of our times, collected – for that is the verb – four more gold medals.

Bolt and Phelps gave us unadulterated joy, but sporting glory was not restricted to the empyreal overclass of titanic athletes. Gymnast Simone Biles was the new star of the Olympic Games. Fiji won a glorious gold, a first ever, at the rugby sevens, judoka Rafaela Silva claimed Brazil's first laurel, South African Wayde van Niekerk absolutely pulverised Michael Johnson’s 400-metre world record. Mo Farah from Great Britain won another double gold in 5,000 m and 10,000 m.

For India, Rio 2016 was another painful procession of sporting incompetence. Dipa Karmakar and PV Sindhu delighted with outstanding performances of grace and sportsmanship in the gymnastics and badminton. Abhinav Bindra was valiant at the shooting range, but, in agonising fashion, missed out on a podium place. For the better part of these 17 days, tough, India were ridiculed, like a schoolboy reprimanded for slacking.

And so, with 306 gold medals doled out – none to India – the closing ceremony, the formal culmination of Rio 2016, came to pass: stormy winds and rain gushed around the Maracana, the perfect storm, not apocalyptic, but borderline disastrous, yet maintaining a good fervor. A buoyant celebration of Brazil, their culture and their music followed.

The athletes were ecstatic – Bosnia and Herzegovina tentatively danced the Samba and Team GB wore obnoxious flashing shoes. Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, the winner of the marathon, the ultimate Olympic discipline, received the gold medal in a tearful ceremony. Paes, with a straw head, got booed, but sipped champagne in the VIP seats, dancing Forro, a hodgepodge genre of Brazilian northeastern music. Then, Super-Mario-Abe emerged from a green pipe to welcome the world to Japan and plant a seed into the global conscience for Tokyo 2020.

Finally, Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC declared these Games as "marvellous Games in a marvellous city". Carlos Nuzman, the president of the local organising committee, added some of his very own nonsensical drivel. "Rio has transformed and is still a magic place," he said.

The city is, but it remains a cauldron of contradictions and complexities, a vague purgatory among hills and inhabitants of a beguiling sensuality. But Rio’s state government is bankrupt. Police, hospitals, universities and other below-par public services are teetering on the edge of a financial abyss. Unemployment is soaring and during the Olympic Games, and the World Cup alike, inequality has become more pronounced.

The Olympic bubble was also sporting apartheid: the Olympic citizen – the IOC, the fourth estate, and the tourist class – and the plebiscite, ordinary Cariocas, commuting for hours to low-paid jobs. The political overclass lobbied for the Games, not Rio’s citizens. At $11.5 billion (Rs 77,257 crore), the greatest show on earth came at too high a price for Rio.

Rio’s endeavour and merit was gigantic among all the misaligned priorities. The closing ceremony channelled the message of power and strength of the next generation. The feeling persists, though, that Brazil remains the country of the future. Still, for the hosts, these Olympic Games were a triumph; for the IOC, a stinging indictment.