By George Aluo, just back from Rio
Rio 2016 was no doubt an Olympic Games with a different face. It was a Game of no dull moments on and off the tracks and field of play. Athletes, officials, journalists, tourists, name it stormed Rio, saw and “conquered.”
Right from day one, the Games opened with a spectacular opening ceremony that was held at the famous Maracana Stadium, an arena that sports crazy Brazilians have special love for.
Though the Brazilian government built a new Olympic stadium for the Games, Maracana remained the “special sporting shrine” that played host to the opening and closing ceremony.
For the hosts, Rio 2016 turned out to be a glorious Games. Unlike in 2014 when they hosted the World Cup and lost scandalously by 7-1 to Germany in the semifinals, Rio 2016 was a time to celebrate.
Brazil may not have finished anywhere near the top of the final medals table, but winning the Games soccer gold after beating Germany in the final of the soccer event was for them nothing but “dream fulfilled”, using the words of Neymar, who captained Brazil’s soccer team.
It would be noted that Brazilians in spite of their intimidating soccer record and pedigree in world football had never won the Olympic Games soccer gold. So, breaking that jinx at Maracana was really a big deal.
Ahead of the Games, Brazil was severally in the news on the negative side. Some experts had even called for an outright postponement of the Games, citing security, health and infrastructural reasons. Those who felt Brazil won’t be ready to host the world said the country was being ravaged by Zika virus and polluted waters. The crime rate in Rio was also said to be high. And on the political front, the country was also passing through some turmoil with the impeachment of her president few weeks to the August 5 kick off date.
But anybody who was in Rio for the Games would confess that all the noise that was made by the western world about Brazil not being safe was nothing, but making a mountain out of a Mole hill.
From the stadium facilities to the transport network, down to catching fun, tourists and all those who were in Rio thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
As the vice president of AIPS (Africa), Mitchel Obi, a seasoned Nigerian journalist put it, “Zika disease was nothing but a political disease.”
One symbol of Rio city that made all the difference during the Games was the Christ the Redeemer Statue.
Christ the Redeemer Statue
For virtually everybody who was in Rio, one place that became a “Must visit” was the Corcovado where they have the imposing statue of Christ The Redeemer.
The colossal statue which in Portuguese is known as Cristo Redentor, was created by French sculptor Paul Landowski and built by Brazilian engineer, Heitor da Silva Costa way back in 1931. Costa is said to have sweated on the work for five years from 1926 to 1931. The project was eventually inaugurated on October 12, 1931.
The statue is 30 meters tall, with an 8-meter basement. Its arms stretch 28 meters wide.
The statue is located at the peak of the 700-meter Corcovado mountain in the Tijuca forest National Park overlooking the city of Rio.
The edifice which has become a religious cum cultural “shrine” has been voted one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
Going on a visiting to Christ the Redeemer was like making a religious pilgrimage. The place is simply one ,which anybody who has phobia for height shouldn’t dare to go. A trip by bus to the mountain-top, takes about 45 minutes. One cannot but wonder how the snake- like road was constructed to the mountain top. Amazingly there is also a train that moves from the foot of the mountain to the top. A round trip bus ride cost 40 Reals, while ticket to the place goes for 38 Reals. To get a good picture of the statue one must be an expert in taking selfie. But those running the sanctuary has official photographers who churn out nice looking photos in 10 minutes for 40 Reals. Most visitors, especially Catholic faithful would not leave without going into the quiet chapel to pray. At the information centre, Sunday Sunsports gathered that over 1000 tourists visited the place on a daily basis during the period of the Games. Those running the place deserve a pat on the back, given the way they ensure that tourists visit without hassles. The serene environment has shopping malls, restaurants and bars where tourists relax to eat and drink, a museum where one can get all the history of Brazil.
Queues were followed religiously when buying tickets and the same steps were taken in the boarding of the buses that convey tourists in and out of the place.
When this writer visited the place, athletes and officials from Jamaica, Czech Republic and Great Britain also came calling. They were all unanimous in their opinion that a visit to the shrine has made Rio 2016 special in many ways.
In fact, the story of the Olympics in Rio cannot be completed without mention being made of the Christ the Redeemer Statue. The iconic place makes the city of Rio different from all other cities that have hosted the Olympics.
Copa Cabana and Ipanema Beaches
Of course the story of Brazil can not also be complete without mention being made of the beaches. Tourists who were in Brazil had fun to the fullest at Copa Cabana beach and other happening places in Rio. Brazilian ladies flooded the beaches Bra-less and basking in the summer sun. Despite the language barrier, thanks to GSM technology, tourists were able to communicate with the babes most of whom only speak Portuguese. With ones telephone, communication problem was solved.
In spite of repeated warning to tourists, athletes and officials not to go crawling at night, the copa cabana and Ipanema beaches bubbled none stop at night. Live bands entertained tourists and beer flowed freely.
A Brazilian volunteer, Diaz, told Sunday Sunsports that one thing that went for Rio 2016 is the fact that tourists would return to their countries with fond memories of Brazil.
He pointed out that accommodation in Rio may have been expensive, but one thing that wasn’t expensive was the Brazilian escort ladies and beer.
And a confirmation of what happened at Copa Cabana is the fact that names of stuffs that shouldn’t be mentioned here litter the place. As a colleague of mine put it… “what we are seeing is a clear indication that many other things other than just enjoying food and drink happen here at night.”
Diaz who was one of the volunteers that wore the “I speak English tag” said: “You can see that our beer is cheap, with just three Reals (about N100) one could buy a bottle of any brand of beer. And the Rio escort ladies are there for any tourist who wants to chill out with them.”
The Brazilian police also did a good job of tightly policing Copa cabana beach as the entire stretch of the beach that runs into several kilometers had heavy police presence all through.
The Brazilian samba girls also lit up the Olympics Games village. Athletes who opted not to go anywhere near the beaches and nite clubs caught fun right inside the Games village, as the samba girls came around to entertain them with the Brazilian samba dance.
The beautiful samba girls posed freely with athletes for photographs and lit up the village located in Barra with their dance. As Tony Ubani, Team Nigeria’s press attaché noted: “Rio 2016 is special because unlike in London 2012, athletes have been entertained in a special way by the samba girls. This clearly shows that nobody comes to Brazil without dancing samba.”
Zika Virus and security
Talking about Zika virus, it was like the Brazilian authorities fumigated the entire city of Rio before the commencement of the Games, as there was no sign of mosquito anywhere. Those, who stayed in residential apartments and tourists who were in hotels never complained of mosquito bite. In fact the Local Organizing Committee (OCOG) had in the Media Kit given to accredited journalists provided mosquito insecticides that were never used.
Little wonder the World Health Organisation (WHO) gave Brazil a clean bill of health to host the Games in spite of the Zika virus fear that saw many top athletes pulling out of the Games.
In the area of security, the police in Rio never went to sleep for a second. Agreed that there were pockets of security issues, but most tourists went in and out of the venues without being attacked. The places of abode-apartment and hotels were all safe. The celebrated case of four USA swimmers that were reportedly robbed at gunpoint while returning from an event turned out to be false.
Six time gold medallist, Ryan Lochte and his teammates, Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and Jimmy Feigen had claimed they were robbed by individuals, who posed as police officers. The robbery story turned out to be false, even as Brazilian authorities demanded public apology from the United States before the swimmers were allowed to leave for home.
Road trips without tears
While traveling by road is nothing but a nightmare here in Nigeria, in Brazil road trips are nothing, but a pleasure.
Though, Rio was the city that hosted the Games, courtesy of football other cities in the very massive country got a feel of the action.
Football matches right from the group stage were spread across cities like Manaus, Sao Paolo, Belo Horizonte, Brazilia and Salvador. In fact the Nigerian Dream Team that won bronze started her campaign in the Brazilian northern city of Manaus, which is some 4,500 Kilometers away from Rio.
The Dream Team had after the fine outing in Manaus played in Sao Paolo and Salvador. And for some of us who covered the Games, we made several trips outside Rio. And with the rising cost of flying (it is not only in Naija that airfares are going up) there was no alternative to hitting the roads.
The good thing, however, was that in Brazil, one embarks on road trips without tears. When the Dream Team played her last group game against Colombia in Sao Paolo, this writer alongside two other Nigerian journalists left the Redioverio Bus terminal in Rio at 7:30 am with the driver telling us that it would take us approximately six hours to “land” in Sao Paolo. We were also told that there would be a 30 minutes stop over at a bus terminal on the way after a three-hour interval.
First, the bus left the Redioverio terminal at exactly the 7:30 departure time on our ticket from Platform 13 even when the vehicle was not yet filled up with passengers.
The fully air-conditioned state- of- the- art bus had all the amenities that would make one say to hell with flying. The seats were such that one can adjust and go sleeping. The toilets (sanitario in Portuguese) were neat to a fault. And the bus was fitted with WIFI (with free assess), which ensured that one had access to Internet facilities all through. Every bus in Brazil is WIFI compliant, just like every residential apartment.
Beyond the comfort of the buses, the roads in Brazil are not only smooth, but well marked with all the needed road signs. They are also well policed. Virtually after every 10 kilometers you see the presence of well kitted men of the federal police (Policia) with their patrol vehicles who were not asking commuters ( wetin you carry) but ensuring their safety.
The drivers could also tell you with some level of precision what time they will arrive because there is a speed limit that is observed religiously. The drivers also park to cool off after every three hours at the terminals along the highway. The highway bus terminals in Brazil are such that can compete with any of our so-called upgraded airports here in Nigeria. The terminals have shopping malls, eateries, toilets, wifi facilities, ATM cash points and other facilities that would make a traveler feel at home.
A six-hour trip from Rio to Sao Paolo was nothing but fun.
Not even, the 28- hour trip from Rio to Salvador for the Dream Team’s quarter final match against Denmark was tiring as sleeping inside the bus for the all night journey was like one being in his bed room. There was no pot-hole induced gallops that would make one wake up every now and then.
Encounter with Ifa Priest
Though the marvelous city of Rio has several hotels, especially along the COPA Cabana beach coastline, the hotels couldn’t cope with the number of tourists, who converged on the city during the Olympics. The Games was said to have attracted over one million visitors to Rio.
Where one was able to get a hotel room, the cost was out of this world. The media hotel provided by the LOC was not in anyway cheaper. So, for Nigerian journalists, who were coming from a depressed economy, there was no alternative to staying in residential apartment. The thing that went our way was the fact that Rio residents were willing to vacate their apartments and make some quick money.
By luck, my colleagues and myself linked up with a Nigerian, who has been residing in Rio for well over two decades. Our Nigerian brother, Fola turned out to be an Ifa priest from Osun State. He is the Chief Priest of Rio based Orunmila temple. Before we could say Jack Robinson, Fola had performed the “magic” of securing us apartments, where each of us (Nigerian journalists) coughed out a little less than 100 dollar per day.
News Agency of Nigeria’s Tony Nezianya had insisted that we couldn’t get a better deal anywhere, even as we thanked Fola for bailing us out of the accommodation challenge.
Food problem taken care of
The owner of the apartment, where we stayed in Rio was a grand mother, who is still very young and not in anyway looking like a grandma, despite having a seven-year old grand daughter.
Fola had after speaking Portuguese with our “landlady” struck a deal that saw her preparing dinner for us all through our stay. With just R$200 we returned home after the days sporting events to enjoy a good meal of rice with a stew that was meat infested.
Our “landlady” was so nice and hospitable that New Telegraph’s Sports Editor; Adekunle Salami kept drumming it into everybody’s ears that we must not leave Rio without buying her a gift.
Vanguard’s Jacob Ajom, who was making his Olympic debut was so much at home in Rio that he asked if Brazil could be given the hosting right of the next All Africa Games, since he is not sure the next hosts of the Games would be ready, given what African countries, including Nigeria is passing through economically.
“If the African country that is billed to host the next edition of the All Africa Games is not ready, we can approach Brazil to host it,” Ajom said humorously, even as he insisted that he would love to return to Brazil to cover another sporting event.
Athletes consummate their love
Rio 2016 was one Games that also had the face of love. Some athletes not only won medals, but also won life partners.
There were several emotional moments, as marriage proposals took the Games to the next level. From volunteers to divers, the declaration of love knew no bounds as lovebirds stole the show.
China’s He Zi received the shock of her life, when her teammate and boyfriend, Qin Kai rushed up with a diamond ring during a medal presentation ceremony of the women’s 3 meter springboard event.
The story was not in anyway different when a volunteer, Majorie Enya asked her Brazilian Rugby player girlfriend to marry her before sealing the proposal with a kiss.
Enya walked into the pitch after a rugby match and took her heartthrob, Isadora Curello 24 by the hands. After grabbing the microphone, at the Deodoro Stadium, 28-year old Enya made a heartfelt speech that saw the stadium come alive with applause.