Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Rio2016—Um Mundo Novo

With my colleagues Nathalie (CAN) and Gunnar (DEN) in Deodoro Park
Um Mundo Novo--A New World. Brazil is hosting the 2016 Olympics, and it was supposed to be a proud moment for the country. Four full days into the competition one can say that the sporting side appears to be hitting on all cylinders, even if this morning's rain and wind caused the cancellation of the rowing competition and put a damper on the cycling time trial. But one can't fault Rio for that. Still, transportation and other logistical woes tarnish that overall picture, and some of those breakdowns are inexcusable. But let's concentrate on the positive.
The Olympic Village is a huge melting pot of nations
I am down here in an official function, not as a referee but in that other capacity that I dabble in. That means that I have an all-access accreditation, and outside of my work-hours (which can be long) I can watch whatever event is happening at the time (and that I can reach--commutes between venues are extremely long and difficult). I have been issued a uniform that is somewhat reminiscent of that of a Disney worker or safari guide, and I have a public transportation card to get around. But as I said, that can be pretty challenging.
Riding the gondola up to Sugarloaf Mountain
I have about 100 colleagues from all over the world, and it is exciting to meet, work, and socialize with my counterparts from Europe and Asia and the Americas. English is the common language, of course, but I get ample opportunity to use my Spanish as well since we also have staff and of course volunteers who speak only Portuguese; for them, it is relatively easy to grasp what a speaker of Spanish is trying to convey, even if understanding especially spoken Portuguese is pretty much impossible for me. I am somewhat of an anomaly, coming from Texas with a German name yet speaking Spanish (or at least pretending).
On my first day in Rio I took a 25-minute walk to the nearest beach
So, when I had my first off-day last week Friday I didn't have any issues going on an extended solo day-long sightseeing excursion that took me to Sugarloaf Mountain and Copacabana beach. It was a brilliant day, other than today, another off-day that is unfortunately rainy. I took the gondola up the iconic mountain from where one has a spectacular view of this huge city. While I was on top of the Sugarloaf the downhill gondola was shut down--no, not a terrorist attack but rather the imminent ("10 minutes") arrival of the torch that was on the way to the stadium for that evening's opening ceremonies. The 10 minutes stretched into two hours; as you can imagine, this happens all the time. Brazil--like most if not all of Latin America--lives in a different time-space continuum than we do. But the wait was worth it, even if we had to stand in one spot and couldn't mill around since the gondola continued to bring more tourists to the top while nobody could go down, providing a similar jam-packed environment as the buses often do.
This marmoset was intent on sharing our caipirinhas
The torch finally appeared, carried by a beaming older fellow who posed for media shots in various positions before eventually transporting la torcha back down. As it so happened, my colleague Richard from Switzerland spied me and together we decided to not fight the masses for the gondola but to enjoy an overpriced caipirinha in the outdoor bar--with Ipanema and Copacabana beaches as the perfect backdrop. The first caipi evaporated almost immediately, so we continued to order more and more until we finally decided that we'd better stop unless we wanted to have a real hangover. A priceless afternoon!
Photo ops are part of the show
Talking about money: Rio is expensive. The Olympics quite likely have had their effect, but since I always make a point to snoop around supermarkets and the like I get a pretty good feel for what things really cost, and life in Lubbock is much cheaper than life in Rio. My friend Marcelo from Chile, with whom I worked last year the Mountain Bike World Cup in Wyndham, told me that Rio and Santiago are by far the most expensive South American cities. Well, the good thing is that all of us are being paid a daily stipend of $100 in the form of a pre-paid VISA card (which can be used only in Brazil), so paying for things is like getting them for free. Most of us have started to use ATMs to withdraw much of the money and later exchange the reales to dollars or whatever as we're not so sure whether the organization may not rescind this pay for some arbitrary reason. No kidding.
Air duct salad in the Olympic Village
The possibility to spend money is pretty much limited to our off days. Even though our shifts--on paper--are supposed to be something hypothetical like 8:00 until 16:00 hrs, the reality on that particular day was that we left the hotel at 7:30 a.m. and didn't return until about 1:30 a.m. the next day. The only money one spends at that time is for beer at the hotel bar. Like a group of expats we flock around a few bottles of alcohol and swap the day's war stories, only to be back at the van that will shuttle us back to whatever venue we've been assigned to at 8:00 a.m. That is, if there is a shuttle--most of the time we have to fend for ourselves using public transport. When you work 34.5 hours in two days, you're burning the candle from all three ends.
Late afternoon over Rio
But back to my sightseeing excursion. Once I was off the mountain, evening came fast. By 6 p.m. it is dark around here, but the traffic and street life don't blink an eye, of course. Since the bus system outside of the modern BRT (Bus Rapid Transport) is a total mystery, I walked to Copacabana beach and slowly strolled down the promenade. Yes, there were some flag sellers, and a few sand sculptures featured Olympic rings, but overall you wouldn't know that the Olympics are happening unless you get close to a venue--then hard fencing and soldiers make it impossible to cross streets or enter a venue unless you make a huge (on-foot) detour. Regardless of whether I work or enjoy time off, I am sure that I walk in excess of 8 to 10 miles a day. There's no logic in the placement of bus stations and entry gates, and even the venues themselves are huge and require decent shoes and lots of time.
Hockey girls, lovely and tough
Post-match stretching should also be a spectator sport
I ate my first and only meal out on this trip so far that night at Copacabana. (The rest of the time we get to eat at the venues in the workforce break areas; the menu is the same every day, but there are some greens and there's generally a choice of beef, chicken, or fish, plus of course the staple of Brazilian cuisine, feijoada, beans and rice.) Since I had snacked on some sausages I was content with a tasty grilled spit of meat, but not a full churrasco. I made it home well after midnight.
Walk, walk, walk
Copacabana Beach boulevard at night
I used my second day off to go to various competitions in the Olympic Park. Thanks to my accreditation I can sample sports like one would sample foods at a buffet--a bit of this and a bit of that. I watched team handball, basketball, judo, weightlifting, table tennis, and water polo. During a short break yesterday I got to see the last few minutes of the final for gold in the men's epee, or fencing. Let me tell you: Seeing these sport in person, up close, in modern facilities is a completely different experience from watching the same on TV. During my days in Deodoro Park I got to see field hockey and various shooting competitions; unfortunately I didn't get a chance to peek in on the rugby matches that were played out there as well. Here are a few pics from some of the venues that I visited.

From tomorrow on I will be in the velodrome for the track cycling events. When I set up our work space yesterday I had a chance to really familiarize myself with this beautiful and well-managed venue. Renata, the venue manager, took me on a full tour, and it was obvious from her preparation that she has not wasted the past two years she has been in charge. The pride in "her" facility was obvious, and I am looking forward to my five days in the 'drome. We had a dress rehearsal that lasted two hours, with a few local riders filling in as "racers" so that everybody--including the announcer, photo finish, and medal carriers--could work out the last kinks. Even the medical team got involved when one of the guys crashed! One of them had the hairiest legs that this velodrome will ever see, and he won the gold medal. It was hilarious! Actually, we all needed a bit of comic relief.
Dress rehearsal in the velodrome
Flags were hoisted, the Brazilian anthem was played, and foil-wrapped chocolates were given out as medals
Mr. Hairy Legs stood on the podium after winning the sprint
It's another off day for me, my third--unfortunately they were all bundled up front for me. Today's weather truly sucks, so I finally got to update the blog. This morning about a dozen of us (a fraction of the original allotment as others had already been relocated) were told that we would have to leave the hotel by 10:30 a.m.--the rooms will be used for broadcast people. Excuse me? This is another example of the brilliant planning that we deal with on a daily basis. But then a list started to circulate that showed that only about three-quarters of us would have to move--but nobody knew to what hotel. I had already packed when I was told that I will move at a later date--again, nobody knows at this point when or where. It would have been an easy thing to move me today, when I don't have to work. But that would be too simple and logical. So, everything is in limbo and morale is low thanks to this icing on top of the other inadequacies in regard to our work.
Caipi in hand, Copacabana in back
I hope that the remaining 12 days that I am down here will be a little less stressful as far as these chaotic circumstances are concerned. None of us shies away from the work, and we're all supportive of each other. But all this uncertainty and mayhem have been so severe that a few of our group have already thrown the towel and left for home. It'd bee nice to see more views like this and leave with a warm feeling for Rio and the 2016 Olympics, a feeling that so far eludes all of us.
Click on the panorama
I guess I'll brave the bus system once again and go watch some more Olympic contests, now that the blog is finally updated.


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