So, Rio it is...
Last Week I was sitting in a crowded athletes "connection center" here at the training center, patiently awaiting what the announcement of the site of the 2016 Olympic Games. The "AT&T Athletes Connection Center" was packed full of athletes from various sports as well as media from San Diego and all over California in general. I was actually in the training center cafeteria grabbing a coffee headed back to the connections center...when I heard the news. They where supposed to announce the winner around 9:3o am local time and I figured that since it wasn't even 9am yet, I had time to go grab a quick coffee and head back in time for the celebration. Thats when I heard the results from the 1st round (not the 2nd, or the 3rd...but the 1st!) and heard the announcement
"Chicago, receiving the least amount of votes in the 1st round will be excluded from the following rounds."
Just like that, we were out. As I made my way back to the connections center, 5 min away, the news was already spreading and there was some dis-belief as some of the camera crews hadn't even fired up their gear yet when the news came through. I happen to have 1st hand knowledge of Rio and Brazil very well, having competed in Rio 3 times over the last few years, most notably the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio.
Now, before I go about on a "Rio-bashing tangent" let me first clear a few things. Rio is hands down the most beautiful place I have ever been in regards to natural beauty. The beaches and mountains that surround the city are nothing short of breath taking. But, Rio is also hands down the most dangerous place I have ever been to. Just to take a taxi cab ride to Copacabana or Ipanema beach, it was a necessity that you stripped down to bare essentials. That meant no watches, no sunglasses, no cameras, jewelry or anything that might give the slightest hint that you may have anything of value on or around you. Even after getting out of a taxi (which have to be pre-arranged by local authorities) and having to walk only 5 minutes to the beach...Its a 5 minute walk that is one of the most intense of your life, that involves you ducking in and out of buildings to ensure that the people behind you keep walking and aren't following you. I'm a fairly big boy at over 200lbs and Rio is the only place in the world that I have been and been scared for my life.
In 2007, I competed in the Pan American Games in Rio and it was my first encounter with Anti-American fans. It was the 1st time that I have been booed for wearing the Red, White and Blue and it was like a slap in the face...but it also motivated me to kick everyone's butt and as a result I won a silver medal and couldn't help but have a over whelming feeling of "take that!" I remember times when the US team would win a race..boos! If one of our athletes missed a bar in the pole vault of high jumps, massive cheers would erupt! It was the most bizarre thing I have ever seen. I specifically remember watching the women's pole vault competition and April Steinar-Bennet of the USA was in a race for the gold medal with the local favorite Fabiana Muerrer or Brazil. As April would make her way down the runway, the stadium of over 50,000 people erupted into massive boos and whistles and if she missed, the stadium erupted into a deafening cheer. It was the most backwards thing I have ever seen.
One of the lasting impressions that I had of Rio was waking to gunfire every morning in the barrios a few miles behind the athletes village. I have been to the 05 and 09 World Championships in Helsinki and Berlin and the 08 Games in Beijing, and Rio is the only place where armed guards with Riot Gear and M-16 assault rifles would actually board the athletes bus prior to entering the village to check credentials. I can only imaging the security carnival that Rio is looking at going into 2016. If I where still competing in 2016, which I dont plan to be, I would feel that Rio would be the Olympic Games that I would not want my family to attend due to security problems.
The last feeling I had as I left the "announcement viewing party" here at the training center was one of anger and disappointment. As a USA Olympian, I have the feeling everyday that what Olympians have accomplished are overshadowed by the inflated salaries and egos of the 4 major sports that dominate the American media. With the games being held in Chicago, at least for a small glimmer of time, being an USA Olympian would actually be considered "cool" again. As the Olympic movement and dream seems to be fading in America, I hope that loosing the 2016 Games doesn't damper the fire that burns in Olympians. The general public always forgets that for us, its not every 4 years...its every day.
As I walked back to my room at the center I passed another an athlete giving an interview to local media... The quote that I will remember was...
"I get notoriety and recognized for 3 weeks every 4 years for what I have done and accomplished...With the Games in Chicago I kinda hoped it would it would be extended to a few months every 4 years...oh well, I'm late for practice."
April Jumping in Rio with Boos, quality is bad...but TURN IT UP! unreal
The view of the ghettos behind the Athletes Village (view from my room)
Another View of the Ghetto from my room
Another View to the left of my room...another problem area for local police
...and to the right
The Amazing View of Rio at Sunset, Copacaba Beach
The other side of Rio, Ipanema Beach...amazing scenery