Quick Bits

1. I’ve seen the southern cross constellation.

2.  Watched a Polish athlete set a new world record in the hammer throw.

3.  I’m still amazed at the size of the crowds.  Everywhere we go it’s a steady stream of people.  I’m talking 5-6 people across for as far as the eye can see.  There’s a lot of walking but not a lot of waiting.

4.  We are officially Olympic veterans: we saw an American family standing confused, map in hand, trying to get directions.  We were able to help them decipher all the stops, subway, busses and trains.

5.  Speaking of busses, subways, and trains… for $50 we have unlimited use of Rio’s public transportation for the week.

6.  We can’t board the train to the Olympic Park without an event ticket and the prepaid metro card.

7.  We are having better luck finding good food.  Although today I ate a pickled carrot.  Yuck.

8.  Several Brazalians have remarked that the games are good for them.  So many were against it because of the economic situaton here, but seeing the world’s focus on them, they are now excited.  It’s lifted the city’s and country’s morale.

9.  There were 30 mph gusts today during the diving prelims yet the show went on.  Much respect for those divers.

10.  Steeplechase is an exciting event.  I was so ho-hum about seeing the women’s 3000m steeplechase final, but I was on my feet, whipping my American flag as our runner finished third … the first medal ever for an American in the event.

Tomorrow, so far, is event free.  Planning on checking out the Christ statue. 

Quick bits …Gold edition

1.  A monkey pooped on Jen this morning. They are small and behave like squirrels.

2.  Jen made fun of this girl on the bus next to her.  At one point Jen said that she loved the fact that no one understood English so she could speak freely.  The woman sitting next to her spoke English.

3.  Our dining experiences are an adventure.  We think we order 1 thing, and something else is delivered.

4. A little boy followed me around a store.  His mother asked me to speak o him in English.  I did and gave him a fist bump, his face lit up.

5.  We are exhausted.  We had a couple of hours between Greco-Roman wrestling and the gymnastic individual events.   We totally fell asleep on the grass near the tennis venue.  Like snoring sleep.

6.  I am so impressed with how efficiently Brazil is moving people through the venues.  I haven’t had to wait in a line more than 3 minutes.  Thats for bag checks, ticket entry, food and beverages. I am simply amazed at the number of people in this city right now.

7.  Watching Simone win gold was impressive.  Able to sing along with the National Anthem was an experience I will never forget.

8.  It is impressive just how affordable everything is.  They allow food and water into the arenas so you are not forced to buy theirs.  But they still don’t overprice their food.

9.  An incredble tribute to Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina competing in her 7th Olympics.  She competed on the vault and was most likely her last competition.  They ran a video tribute to her and she received a standing ovation.

10.  Who wears a Tom Brady jersey to the Olympics?

Cam-a-ROON

I began to think that many of the stories from the Olympics and the idea of the Olympic spirit was hyperbole.  But it’s not.  The Olympic Spirit is actually a thing, it exists and it permeates everyone.  On Friday we had tickets for indoor volleyball.  The first match was Serbia versus China and the Serbs were impressive.  The next match was Argentina versus Camaroon; both winless in their first Olympics.  

Knowing we had 2 more events and that time was tight, I figured we’d catch a bit of the 1st set then leave.  Then Camaroon entered the arena, exuberant and infectious.  The arena erupted at their dance moves in warm-ups and the raw energy on display. It would be 2 hours before we left.

The game was not one of excellent volleyball skill or strategy but it was filled with passion.  If you did not know their records, you would have thought you were watching a gold medal match.  No one would concede a point; making plays that seemed impossible.

Now I’ve been to some great sporting events like the Super Bowl and the World Series.  This volleyball match, between two winless teams, is one of the greatest sporting events I’ve ever been a part. 5 games.  A six point rally by Argentina to win game 5 and the match. 

But it was Camaroon and their dozen brightly clad fans in the stands.  It was their absolute zeal after a teammate made a seemingly impossible play.  But it was their Usain Bolt pose after every huge block that made the crowd roar and cameras click.

When the ball hit the floor for the final time, the jubilation and despair of each player unfolded on the court.  The crowd, half which were Argentine, the rest from all over the world but pulling for Camaroon were still standing, clapping, and cheering in devout appreciation of what just occurred.

A day later, while talking to another spectator on the subway about volleyball, I mentioned this game.  A lady turned, raised her hands to her temples and exclaimed in staggered English, “Argentina-Camaroon— yes, I was there… oh my god, what a game.”

Yes, I was there too.  I came to Rio, excited to chant USA and waive the Stars and Stripes.  But I found myself chanting Cam-A-Roon as respect for brilliant passion.  To temporarily join that small, colorful clan in that ideal called the Olympic Spirit.  

Quick bits

I really want to tell you about yesterday’s volleyball match between Argentina and Camaroon but we start our day at 7 am and don’t get back to the room until 9 or later.  With spotty internet, it’s taking longer than expected.  But here are the highlights/ observations from today.

 1.  I’m pretty sure we made Iranian tv as we stood directly under the Iranian flag during the 94kg men’s weightlifting medal ceremony. 

2.  It is challenging to find our way around.  Every street seems like it’s named after a General.

  3.  We saw the Olympic cauldron with 300,000 of our closest friends.  Not exagerrating, the streets were absolutely packed with people. 

 4.  Jen and Iwere almost hit by a bus.  It came careening around a corner and I pushed Jen one way and jumped back the other way.  Jen said it felt like 3 minutes before the bus would pass and she knew I was safe. 

 5.  There are fire extinguishers about every 10 feet.

  6.  I yelled at a cab driver in my best Portuguese to stop. He kept missing the turn and I was convinced he was just running the meter.  Jen was convinced he was just dumb.

  7.  I have a new appreciation for weightlifting.  

8.  Nothing brings women of the world together like passing a roll of toilet paper while standing in line for the bathroom when all the stalls have run out of paper. 

 9.  The architecture is beautiful.  

10.  People are really enjying themselves.  I haven’t seen anyone lose their patience or get upset.  It is a very jovial atmosphere everywhere we go.

Quick bits

1.  The parallel parking here is an art form.  On a steep hill a car can park within inches, front and back, all while driving a stick.

2.  It takes awhile to get from venue to venue, but it’s hassle free.  They are doing an amazing job of keeping people headed in the right direction.

3.  Brazalians do not eat a lot of food in the stands.  Maybe a beer or a coke, but nothing like the US where a person will have nachos, hot dog, pretzel and a beer in one tray.

4.  I ordered a pizza at the concession stand.  I was asked if I wanted ketchup or mustard with that.  

5.  People love their dogs here.  My inexact study has determined about 70% are golden retrievers.

6. People drive nice cars, not fancy or expensive, but nice.  Fiats, VW, Honda.  

7.  The people behind me today didn’t speak Englsh but they sang every word to My Sharona.

8.  I was expecting much more samba.  Instead it’s all American music 99% of the time.  Its pretty amazing to see the influence of American culture here.

9.  If you watched archery, we were probably on tv.  We sat with a bunch of other flag waiving Americans.

10.  Jen is a bull in a China shop.  She has inadvertently bumped, hit, kicked and smacked about 3 dozen people.  She also, somehow, stepped and tripped on someone’s lunch while trying to get  into a cab that someone else was already in.  

Quick bits

1.I’m not seeing a lot of wildlife here and I can’t figure out why.

2.  There are volunteers everywhere.  I spoke with one woman who told me that just 1 restaraunt for the athletes has over 2000 volunteers.

3.  A soda, bag of chips and a hot dog will cost you $10 USD.

4.  I’ve been making one big language mistake.  I thought I’ve been saying “sorry” to people if I accidently bump into them or try to squeeze by.  But I’ve been saying “Listen!” instead.  

5.  Today in a long line to buy souveniers, a cash register opened but the lady in front of me didn’t see the cashier.  Since there’s a language barrier, I went to lightly tap her shoulder to get her attention.  Inexplicably, I poked her shoulder blade incredibly hard instead.  Feeling bad, I promptly said, “Listen!” I received a very angry look indeed.

6.  Jen wanted to snap a picture so she put her bag down and asked me to watch it.  The next thing I knew, I was being nudged  by a heavily armed Federal Police agent.  Two agents stood directly in front of me and watched my every move until Jen came back and retrieved her bag.  Jen has a way of putting me in these predicaments.  At least the security is good.

7.  Every tv in Rio is tuned into the Olympics.

8.  There are 14 people total staying at our hotel.  3 of us have lived in Pittsburgh. Seriously, yinz guys?

9. Dave from Australia is visiting Florida after Rio.  He’s totally afraid of alligators and sought my advice on how to stay safe.  I told him don’t feed them.

10.  I am impressed with how many people have travelled alone to Rio.   Including a woman in her 70’s from Chicago.

Records and Politics

Today, as a fan of sports, was one that I will not soon forget.  When we bought our tickets, we only had a general idea of the event, not who would be participating.  We wanted to see Phelps in a final but when the scheduled was released we realized that we would only see some heats.  Stilll happy with our tickets, we took a metro train and a bus to the Olympic Park located in Barra. 

On the train, I struck up a coversation with Dave and Kathy from Australia. One of the first questions posed was what I thought of American politics.  I informed them that neither of them truly represent the American people.  Dave, pro Trump and Kathy, a Clinton supporter, began to argue about who was the better candidate.  They aren’t even Americans and they’re fighting!  After we began to laugh about the divisive nature of American politics, they gave Jen and I a koala bear toy.

The Olympic park was expansive and a dizzying array of cultures and languages.  


Once settled in the second to last row of the Olympic Aquatic Center, we enjoyed the various men and womens swim heats.  A cheer went up when Ledecki dove in for the 800m freestyle heat.  Early on she pulled away and was cruising.  At the 500 m mark, the announcer stated she had a chance at the Olympic record.  With 50 m left, it appeared that she wouldn’t do it as there was no motivation to pick up speed as every other contender was in her wake.  But then it happened, or the clock slowed.She hit the wall with plenty of time to spare. The crowd erupted.  I never expected to see a record setting performance in a preliminary heat!  Next up was Phelps in the 100 m butterfly.  He finished second but I turned to Jen and said, “we just saw a record breaking performance and the most decorated Olympian ever.  Not bad.”  I had chills.

Ledecki’s Olympic record swim

First Impressions

As in any first visit, the typical first stop is usually the airport bathroom.  I probably wouldn’t discuss this, but the bathroom at the Rio  de Janiero airport (GIG) was one of the most beautiful and cleanest I’ve ever been in.  Wood panelled walls, shiny clean floors and we may have been the first passengers to ever use this restroom.  I will have to find out if this part of the airport was recently built.

Our contact at the irport, Marcello, happily told us what to eat and drink, keeping in line with every Brazalian I’ve ever met.  He also cautiomed us to not form an opinion of Rio as we drove from  the airport to the hotel as the northern part of the city was home to the poorest and most violent slums.  Brazil anticipated this and built a large wall between the road and the slums.  The road was marked by large armored vehicles with half a dozen military personnel carrying some of the largest weapoons I’ve ever seen.

Northern slums of Rio, also called favellas.

While the wall may have blocked views of some of the slums, it could not corral the smell.  I’ll be honest, I’m pretty sure it was raw sewage.  Jen and Iexchanged that glance: “what have we done.”

Then we hit the tunnels that run through the mountain that the Christ statute stands on top of.  These tunnels are often clogged with traffic which makes for a prime target for thiefs on motor bikes to rob cars. Fortunately, none of the motor bikes that zipped mere inches from the side of the car ever stopped and demanded our possessions.  

Through the tunnel and Rio begins looking like Miami.  Tall buildings, parks dotting the roadway and traffic.  What was odd though was that you wouldn’t know the Olympics were in town.  I later found out that the sign supplier only delivered 15% of the ordered signage.  

Once into Copacabana and Ipanema, there was no mistaking that the Olympics were in town.  Crowds packed the sidewalks, many wearing their country’s flags as capes.  The weather was miserable.  Mid 60’s with wind and rain.  Sitting in the beach volleyball arena, it felt more like a late October football game in the northeast than the Summer Olympics on Copacabana Beach.  But, once immersed in the game, the excitement was palpable.  

We made it

Everyone we have met have been super nice and helpful.  Hopefully, today the weather will be a bit nicer to afford us some of the legendary views of Rio.  

Those moments

Our flight was delayed almost three hours leaving Miami, but the passengers were in high spirits.  USA, Jamaica, and Germany shirts were among the few at the gate.  Half of the Australian track and field team were there also.  The excitement was evident through the unusual boisterous comaraderie shared among everyone.  We all were Olympic bound.
Once on board, Jen and I found ourselves seated in the midst of the Aussie’s.  They reminded me of my college sport days of traveling with my teammates.  The eagerness, exhaustion and youthfulness tied together in matching warm ups.

Since we were delayed, I needed to sleep on the flight since we wouldn’t have chance to rest once in Rio.  Soon after lift off, I slipped my heaphones on and drifted off.  When I awoke, the plane was dark, its cargo all sleeping.  I didn’t know if I had slept for hours or just twenty minutes. I looked at the flight map on the screen in front of me.  I saw the word Amazon. I looked left, and through an open window, I saw the pre dawn stryations of orange rising from the Amazon.  It hit me, I was far from home, in a different hemisphere and sitting next to the Australian shot putter.  This was one of those moments that life throws at you to realize the enormity of our world and our small space within it.