Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Days 19-20: Rio to E-ville and 2016 Olympics Observations

Day 19-20: Rio to E-ville and 2016 Olympics Observations

Not quite 60 at 10am

Weather: Cool and raining in Rio, awesome in E-ville (cool and not raining and not humid)

High tides, big surf and lots of wind

QOTD: What a great song to end with for the Quotes Of The Day, as THB walks along the beach in the morning, in the rain

On the way back Tall and tan and young and lovely
The girl from ipanema goes walking
And when she passes, I smile but she doesn't see
Por causa do amor
She just doesn't see
Nem olha para mim
She never sees me
Por causa do amor

Breakfast same-same. A walk along Ipanema Beach where sand has been swept off the beach and on to the sidewalk and bike/jogging path and street. Guess the wind and rain and high tides had their own synchronized event last night.

Lunch at Stambul with R; DA and THB walked by Stambul daily, sometimes two or three times. It was always full. Today, R and I have the place practically to ourselves at 12:30, only locals left roaming the hood. Share a mix of rice, garbanzo beans, lentils, large amount of shredded chicken and bits of hamburger. With waters and lemonade, $20 for THB.
As my cab whizzed along, the other side of the freeway was at a standstill and hawkers were walking in between the lanes; maybe they have an app on their phones that tells them when to hit the highway
Taxi to the airport, the cabbie uses a voice recognition app on his phone to confirm THB is going out of the international airport, $30. Easy ride, THB has planned in plenty of time, arriving 7 hours early (gosh, that must be a typo). Was THB going to relax in the apartment instead of the GOL VIP lounge?

Delta opens for boarding passes at 4pm; while waiting THB does some people watching and reading (the latter pretty much a first during the O’s, we’ve been on the go, attending events or sleeping the rest of the time). It takes an hour to get through security (where for the second time in a month the international side of security took away THB’s deadly nail file) and to the VIP lounge.

The lounge is full of French athletes and support types and some Americans, looks like three athletes are sitting just to my right chatting and gossiping away.

Book Review #1:  Brazillionaires: Wealth, Power, Decadence, and Hope in an American Country, Alex Cuadros: If you have any interest in Brazil (which, after 19 posts, THB hopes you have some), are going to Brazil or have been to Brazil, you’ll like this expose of the top .00001%. THB is both happy and sad he didn’t read much of it before spending 3 weeks in Rio: it would both have really informed much of what was seen (other than the actual events) and been very depressing. There’s even a reference equating D. Trump to one of the personalities covered by Cuadros. Highly Recommended

Book Review #2:  The Dig, John Preston (novel):  fast read based on true events in mid-summer 1939 England when a local estate owner decides to have burial mounds investigated. Recommended

The 2016 Olympics are over and the net of it is:

-         There’s nothing like 20 days of World Championships going on at the same time, every O is a special sports event and Rio was no different

-        KB was missed, sometimes significantly so, and DA was a wonderful volunteer stand-in (the one volunteer who knew what his task was and exceeded expectations). How could two older men not run out of things to say to each other in 3 weeks? Somehow, we didn’t. Maybe we’re really millennial metrosexuals?

-         Our apartment was lovely and perfect: great functionality, good TV, easy food shopping nearby, not a single problem (well, for a few minutes the TV failed and DA switched plugs around and got it going again…if only the sound had gone out and left the picture, we would never have noticed), convenient to a very nice metro station, a few blocks from gorgeous beaches, reasonably priced, and our rent-coordinator very accessible and helpful

General Osirio station mural

Express bus, one of the post-O's gain for locals
New metro cars

Old train cars: this one left the station with the doors open

Inside of cars cut down on seats, emphasize standing room and a/c works great  (THB thinks this style was first used in Toronto) 

-         Every host city struggles to get ready and all eventually overcome the struggles for 3 weeks; it appears that Rio has upgraded its infrastructure in ways THB can’t see and yet can tell they are significant: a revitalized downtown, express bus lanes, a new metro line, new light rail line; all will help the Cariocas in the short and long run
Even though 10s of thousands of people are walking past the torch, most just keep on walking (why is THB carrying a purse?)

-         Putting the O torch in a common location (i.e., revitalized downtown and not at O Stadium) was a major local success story. Maybe it will become an O tradition (Rio to Tokyo: are you listening?)

-         Brazil did not get a medal total “bump” by hosting the Games. Great Britain did, once again. The Brits did extremely well again, a surprise to THB. They clearly helped young athletes get ready for 2012 and it is paying nice dividends
USA Women end in Gold

We were at water polo before the water turned green
USA Women's sweep the 100M

-         The USA women are studs (okay, not exactly right) and it appears that Title IX has a ton to do with it. Another program that after many years is paying dividends (think Head Start). Isn’t equality a great thing!!!! And, for you throwback men watching Women’s Beach Volleyball, High Jump and Pole Vault, how about those close-ups of women in bikini bottoms?
Our first trip in the elevator to the fifth level

The change to the elevator buttons mid-stream

-         And, the standard one: it takes 6-10 days into the games to figure out how to optimize the O experience, and by that time it is too late to do much to change it. THB buys most of his tickets 16 months ahead of time. He books his flights 9 months ahead of time and sets up his accommodations anywhere from 6 years ahead of time (London) to 9 or so months ahead of time (in Rio, THB booked the apartment 1 year before the games, about the norm). His original O partner dropped out with 8 months or so to go so not enough time to adjust the plans as set. Rio opened its final major transportation link to the Games 4 days before the Games started. Even without optimization, it is an amazing experience.

If an OR is set, often the athlete will get a pic with one of the field level displays; Eaton's turn!

A huge moment at T&F: World Record by young S. African
One of the few events the USA women didn't win, though they had 3 of top six finishers (guess who won the 4x400M relay?)
Taylor and Claye go 1-2, their first jumps were the longest. After the event, Claye proposed to his girlfriend (another top US woman who couldn't make the team it was such a strong field) and she accepted 

Jager ran a great race, took an OR to beat him; note the gap to 3rd place

-         The top events: a tie between Matt Centrowitz going Gold in the 1500M and Wayde Van Niekerk breaking Michael Johnson’s 400M record (an event THB also saw, 20 years ago). If either the USA M’s or W’s VB teams had won Gold, that would also be up there. Bronze does not get you a top O’s event medal. If Mayer had upset Ashton Eaton in the Decathlon while setting an OR, that also would’ve made the top 3.
Lead pretty much the whole way: slow first 3 laps and a blazing last 400M; first win in 1500M for USA in 108 years

THB (dis)qualifier: These observations are idiosyncratic, one dedicated O attendee who gets myopic in the extreme. Some of the comments will be absurdly incorrect if seen in a larger context. To THB, it’s fictionalized truth telling. And, for most part, often experienced while on sleep deprecation….er, deprivation.
Ayana sets world record and leads top 8 finishers to personal bests, national records, area records

Host Bump: The host country usually roars up a sizable medal count, using the 6 years before the Games to find, tutor, and groom athletes into peak shape during their big moments on the world stage. Seems like Brazil skipped a step or two. The numbers behind the fiction:

2008: USA 110, China 100, Russia 71, GBR 47, Brazil 16
2012: USA 103, China 88, Russia 77, GBR 65, Brazil 17
2016: USA 121, China 70, Russia 56, GBR 67, Brazil 19
One of Brazil's Gold, in Men's VB

Looks like China is suffering a post-Beijing decline (THB thinks drug controls have a lot to do with this stat), Russia lost 20 medals or so in 2016 with drug controls, GBR did something right in getting ready for London and Rio, and Brazil and USA are in the range of expectations when not hosting (USA got a bump from Russia track and field exclusion and the continuing improvement of USA women who by themselves are out-medaling most countries).

Calatrava's Museu do Tomorrow

Rio Olympics: Four years at THB’s age is getting to be a long time. London? What the hell happened in London? So, comparisons are growing weaker in actuality and maybe a bit less emphatic (or should be) than in previous comparisons of O’s. The big thing: T&F was not the main focus of the Olympic Park. In fact, in Rio T&F was nowhere near the main park. The Olympic Park was missing a lot of the amenities of just hanging out between events (like umbrellas to get THB out of the sun). The food at the venues was a disaster: poor quality, longgggggg lines to pay, no sense of what you were ordering (“pasta”) when you paid, that is if you could get to the front of the line to pay. Keeping water and coke bottle lids for “security” reasons (while letting people holding beers walk through security as long as the beer was in a cup). Adding mobile Caixas was a terrific idea to alleviate the problem somewhat.
Local sports
Just one move of his "routine"

The Games were terrific, as always. Putting on a world championship in every sport (actually, there are a lot of “sports” in the O’s that do not meet THB’s definition of sports, e.g., anything with “synchronized” its name) ever devised in the same 16 day timeframe ain’t easy. Because it’s “the world” and also because the host automatically gets a team in every sport, sometimes the matches are very lopsided. It is part of the charm: not quite everyone wins a medal, more like everyone is blessed to be competing, and that’s enough because it is special for the contestants.  However, the idiosyncrasies of the Brazilians (as hosts) in treating competitors with extreme disdain seemed out of place (to THB, not the Brazilians).

It was very nice that Rio did not drown the visitors in Team London and Team GBR style crap that pervaded the London O’s. THB could have used a few more different t-shirt choices (how’s that for quibbling, THB complaining about “fashion” options). Basically it was the Rio O’s and the Brazilian teams were left to compete on their own (with very rabid fans). Also, the local TV coverage was awesome: non-stop events all over the spectrum of sports, with the sound off (all in Portuguese, some we heard of dubbed into Portuguese!).
Tap in

Transportation was an issue in that there were never actual humans in the right spots to help with directions, and if there were they did not speak English very often or did not know the answers (worse, some gave wrong answers). Charging for the metro broke from the way Beijing and London handled the hordes to make it easy to get in and out of the stations (by just showing your event ticket for the day). Charging was okay because foreigners should help to defer costs; better would have been dedicating lanes to those holding the O metro passes and letting us flow through rather than “tapping” in which was very slow and created lots of congestion and continual anxiety (will my card work?). That is, if you knew where to tap as they used several different turnstile mechanisms.
New light rail downtown

And, of course, the other issue with transportation was how far the O Park and O Stadium were from the other venues and major residential neighborhoods. This is pretty typical of many O’s. Here, if you wanted to be near the T&F stadium, you give up something else, like being near any other event! This was not a Rio problem: THB might have been able to figure it out ahead of time, especially if he came to Rio before booking his apartment and scoped it out himself. THB is pretty sure there were not many locals who understood his unique requirements (you know, for things like sleep and more sleep and decent food choices).
The biggest security risk in Rio

Halfway through the Games, THB figured out where to stay to minimize daily travel times: the small upscale area in the triangle between Maracana stadium (Volleyball), O stadium (T&F) and the bus station where you could get a 30 minute express ride to the O Park.  Overall, that triangle is not an upscale part of town. Even now, it’s not clear how to have found a two bedroom apartment in a safe neighborhood for two guys wandering around in the early mornings (in both senses: after midnight and before 8am). Plus, way back in 2015, THB was planning on attending with KB and possibly our spouses; that made Copacabana and Ipanema the only choices.
The fastest man on any planet

Adept with two phones, while the action was taking place

Weather: Usually extremely pleasant in the beach communities to hot at times in the “inland” locations. The rain at the O Stadium was an oddity for the summer O’s, though it did occur in Sydney as well. Overall, about as nice as it could be.
Volunteer takes our pic; it rained a few times and, except for the last day, it was always warm out

Rio: Safe to very safe, which is pretty typical of the O’s because there is so much police or military out in public and fierce publicity about putting on a good face for the city starting months and months ahead of the Games. THB got very used to going around with a copy if his passport, a few hee-ayes, a piece of paper with his apartment address and some phone numbers, and a credit card: no wallet!

And, health wise, while we didn’t see any mosquitos, nor many bugs (fewer than 15?) and very few birds (other than pigeons and sea gulls) either, Zika is still a big thing here. The woman that rented the apartment to us said that three of her pregnant friends decided to leave the country to finish out their pregnancies. So, the locals sure take infection seriously. The locals, who have been scarred and afraid of crime (rightly so, their personal stories are very scary), never quite caught on that the O’s dramatically suppress crime (other than those by the athletes and officials themselves). We never felt threatened and in only a few instances when wandering around by ourselves did it even cross our minds. Accidentally falling off the train into a gap was a much more common worry.
Mo trains with Salazar, goes double Gold again; Rupp won a medal in the Marathon, this race was his warm-up!

Rio is a city that has a lot of beaches and maybe not all that much else to offer.  We did not hit two of the major attractions: Sugar Loaf or The Redeemer mountain views. The food was not what we would call gourmet (no, THB is not using the food at the venues as part of this evaluation). Casual dining and lots of food served seems to be pretty standard. Buffets and frying showed up a lot, along with plenty of salt.
The biggest actual security risk: a "balloon" floats into the stadium

Cariocas: What the people in Rio are called. Very generous to older or disabled people on the metro (do DA and THB look old and infirm? In the Rio metro and trains we do). At times, THB struggled with the cultural norms. Standing for long periods in lines appears to be accepted: to pay cashiers for food at the venues, to buy daily (?) metro tickets instead of using longer passes (this was truly baffling: why wouldn’t the locals buy more than one metro ticket at a time when the lines were so long), to buy food at the market where even the simplest tasks take forever, buying metro cards by the each at the machines (rather than putting in a multiplier), buying metro cards from people selling 1 or 3 or 7 day cards and their inability to make change, the slowness of the security staff (or the lack of timeliness in opening the lines) created huge delays in getting into the O Stadium; it was generally much better at VB and okay to very good at O Park.
Where was everyone?

THB told DA it was his bad line karma carrying over, then we decided it was just okay with the Cariocas that things take forever. Lots of them needed to be told about what was okay to bring into the events and what wasn’t allowed. We surmised that efficiency is not high on the list of admired attributes.

And, how about those empty seats? Many Brazilians showed up well after the start times of the events (maybe because many of they were not used to using public transportation). At first, THB thought they were stuck in security and then decided that they didn’t really have any interest in the event they were attending unless Brazil was participating. Still, it was a once-in-a-lifetime event and you’d think seeing all of it was somehow important.
In a do-over, this is the hood where DA and THB should've stayed (and not where KB and THB should've stayed)

Even in tourist meccas, there was an absence of English and Spanish. Not that the Brazilians should speak either of these languages; however, when they don’t it makes them unique around the world for tourists (and, it appears, THB is determined to spend more time around the world than at home this year….please, no invitations to Bali, the Black Sea, Malta, Karachay-Cherkessia or the Aleutians until 2017).

Volunteers: Volunteers were universally under-utilized. Hordes of them standing around. Many waving finger-pointing signs with no idea of what they were doing. Almost every “fork in the road” was unstaffed with nobody around telling people what to do or expect (and signage at forks was non-existent). Nobody explaining in front of security that you couldn’t bring in liquids. Nobody trained on anything. A fair number spoke English, they still couldn’t answer basic questions. Zero seat control, so we started about halfway through to go native and take advantage of the vast emptiness at most events. We only got bumped once, at Men’s VB Bronze match.

We read on-line that something like 10-15K volunteers quit after a week or so because of the long work hours and inadequate food. If the people attending the Rio Games used that criteria there would be nobody in the stands. Sorry, bad joke.
Bolt would only have gotten louder cheers if he was Brazilian

The foreigners seemed to care that they were in the proper seats; it seemed that none of the Brazilians did. THB and DA (arbitrarily) decided that the local custom is not to tell someone what to do, even if that is your “job”. Clearing aisles of people was not a responsibility taken seriously, even if the offenders were blocking others views. In fact, standing up to watch a key moment (Bolt running in the 100) was frowned upon.
One of our two fancy meals; neither place spoke any English (each did have an English menu)

And the booing: gosh, okay, they do that in Brazil. THB learned Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi in Sydney. Somehow booing non-Brazilians seemed crass. Loudly booing, not just casual booing. At VB it became really noticeable: any non-Brazilian getting ready to serve was booed unmercifully. They started making public announcements at T&F about respecting the fans. THB thinks that was only done in English. At VB they made announcements a number of times in English about no flash photography; never in Portuguese! Hmmmm, DA thought maybe they knew the locals didn’t have cameras with flash? They sure had smart phones…and managed to use them continually instead of watching the events (THB is guessing that it was true for many foreigners as well).

Southern hemisphere: The “wave” is done backwards
Only US folks wore their tickets; someone found a Rio 2016 plastic holder (we looked,  not for sale at venues) which cleverly covered up the actual seat location

Scalping/tickets: almost no scalping. Nearing the end of the O’s, there were people offering tickets for sale. We don’t think we saw anyone holding up a sign to purchase though there were a few that seemed to want to trade tickets. Local custom or laws? There were of course many tickets still up for sale, and the ticket lines took forever, even when we were 3rd in line. Ticket staff usually did not know about using a phone app that allows you to tap the phone on the credit card device to finalize payment without getting your credit card out.

Rio in general: Very clean, with lots of local street sweeping and people hauling their own trash out of the events. We didn’t see very many parks and those that we came into didn’t seem particularly lush (maybe because not immense swathes of grass like most US or European cities?). Of course, there are miles and miles of beaches, and they are used aplenty. Jaywalking seems prevalent, mostly because the lights at intersections don’t favor pedestrians?

The nuts were okay, the acai not
Was the Copper Box from London really imported to Rio?

The best meal, right around the corner from the apartment

Italy tops USA in semi-finals

Brazil tops Russia in the other semi-final

What THB saw up close and personal: camera on guide-wires
Semenya was the favorite and won

Mo goes double Gold; Chelimo was disqualified and re-instated

USA Women were disqualified in heat and then re-instated after review showed they were interfered with on baton pass

USA Women go Bronze as one of their two stars returns from an injury in the semi-finals (THB thinks they win Gold otherwise) 

USA Women win after re-instatement and qualifying (when running by themselves)
Priddy saves the day in Bronze VB match; Russia may have lost out when their top player stayed home voluntarily (and was called a traitor by authorities)


  1. Thank you for a wonderful time in Rio

  2. Thanks Ralph, always look forward to your Wit!