By Mitch Phillips
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Ukrainian discus thrower Mykyta Nesterenko got the Olympic athletics program under way on a rainy Friday morning but there was a paltry crowd scattered around the 60,000-capacity stadium to watch him.
Four years ago the ear-splitting roar from a packed house that greeted home favorite Jess Ennis as she began her ultimately glorious quest for heptathlon glory was one of the iconic moments of the London Games.
London was unique in selling out its morning sessions, with empty seats the norm in all previous Games. Yet Rio organizers will still be concerned at the pictures beamed around the world showing swathes of empty seats for the Olympics’ premier sport.
IAAF president Sebastian Coe said this week he did not expect full houses and that there had been “issues around scheduling” – notably the late-night finals – but with his organization desperate for positive news after a grim year he will hope things pick up through the day.
Even a change of scheduling to include finals in the morning sessions does not seem to have appealed to the locals. Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba has a tilt at history by becoming the first woman to win athletics gold in three successive Olympics when she races the 10,000 meters later in the morning.
The few fans present did muster some noise for the first Olympic race to take place on a blue track, with local girl Vanessa Chefer going in the opening heat of the heptathlon 100m hurdles.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)