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Joinville, Brazil – "It's the most beautiful part of the Olympic competition,” Eduardo Fischer said about the torch relay, which has been travelling through Brazil for the last 73 days on its way to Rio de Janeiro, where it will be used to light the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony on Aug. 5.
Fischer, 36, believes that the symbolism of the Olympic flame is exactly what Rio de Janeiro needs as it prepares to host the games in less than a month, and he would seem to have some authority on the matter. A former breaststroke swimmer, he represented Brazil at the 2000 and 2004 games.
And on Wednesday, he had the honor of carrying the Olympic torch in his native city of Joinville, Santa Catarina, in Southern Brazil.
“The lighting of the flame shows exactly this moment of unity between cultures and countries,” Fischer told Fox News Latino, “and especially the will needed to overcome in the competition – which can be applied to everything in life."
Like the torch’s journey from Olympia, Greece – a quadrennial trip dating back 80 years from the games’ ancient home to the host city – which began on April 21, the Olympic journey has been a long one for Rio.
With three weeks left till the opening ceremony at Rio’s iconic Maracanã soccer stadium, some competition sites still are not ready. Promises made in 2009, like the environmental clean-up of Guanabara Bay where sailing events are to be held, have not been fulfilled.
And facing one of the worst economic crisis of recent times, Rio de Janeiro state has declared an "state of emergency" cutting from its budget in essential areas, such as health and public security.
This with violence in the city being on the rise and the Zika virus epidemic scaring away a number of athletes.
But maybe Rio can find the inspiration to overcome in torchbearers like Luiz Xavier.
The 17-year-old moved with his family to Joinville from a poor town in the state of São Paulo four years ago so that Xavier could study dance at the Bolshoi Ballet school in town – the famed Russian troupe’s only international branch.
"The Olympics is just that,” the teen told FNL, “a flame that never ends, dedication and perseverance and hope that always need to be fed."
Xavier wasn’t the only Bolshoi dancer who carried the torch – so did Thaís Diogenes. The school hands out scholarships to 230 students from across the country so they can be trained as dancers, musicians and singers and hopefully some day be hired by a European dance company.
Many of them, says Albenise Bueno, are poor and receive an opportunity to change their lives by training at the Bolshoi. "It's like [training for] an athlete,” Bueno said. “We were happy to have representatives carrying the torch, because we experience the Olympic spirit every day."
The Olympic flame arrived in Joinville Wednesday around 3 p.m., received by the local artist Juárez Machado. It has been travelling inside Brazil for 73 days now. By the time it reaches Maracanã, the torch will have been in 27 Brazilian states, passed through some 500 towns and covered more than 12,400 miles on the ground.
It will have traversed the coastline of the country’s Northeast, the Amazon rainforest, the Pantanal wetlands and the continent’s largest cities.
“Let's embrace this feeling,” Fischer told FNL with emotion. “Brazil as a whole, but mainly Rio, needs us to believe, to be excited, to cheer on the athletes. The city needs that strength to face what it is going through.”