The beaches made Rio famous. What really stands out here, though, are the mountains.
You can see it on the pictures and postcards and TV, how the long stretches of white sand are wedged up against giant pillars of rock, but it really takes standing under them to appreciate the dramatic juxtaposition. There's no soil on most of them, just bare rock, like something out of Yosemite.
Through a weird quirk of geology, these vertical spires are everywhere, a few rising thousands of feet into the air, some straight out of the sea. It's not just the famous ones, either – Sugarloaf, out at the end of Copacabana Beach, with a tram to the top, or Corcovada, with the iconic Cristo Redentor statue atop it. There's a lump of rock only a block from my hotel that towers over it. The Olympic Park is in a flat plain, but it's surrounded by more of these outcrops, including a three-peaked mountain that looks like a molar.
At some point over the next few days, I'm going to get to the top of both Sugarloaf and Corcovada (there's a cable car to the top of Sugarloaf and a van ride to the top of Corcovada). For now, I'm admiring the mountains from below, and it really is the No. 1 thing about Rio that pictures do not, and cannot, do justice.
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THE DAY AHEAD: N.C. State's Ryan Held swims in the 4x100 freestyle relay, with heats in the afternoon and the final as the last event of the day, assuming the U.S. team advances. With her sister a first-round upset victim Saturday, Serena Williams begins her Olympics on Sunday against Australia's Daria Gavrilova, and is scheduled to play doubles with Venus as well. Another highlight: World record-holder Katie Ledecky swims in the 400 freestyle.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock