It's amazing how quickly you normalise things.
We've all now completely normalised being on the move. We normalised Antarctica and Morocco and New York. And in just a fortnight we even normalised the complete ridiculousness of the Olympics in Rio.
It's absurd to think that 30+ different sports can hold their competitions in the same city at the same time with hundreds of thousands of spectators coming to soak in the atmosphere. But every four years it happens. And it's awesome. It was a privilege to be part of it this time around.
In the lead up the media couldn't have been more negative about the prospects for public security, health and transport. While it was far from what I imagine a typical Rio experience would be like, if we had visited at a different time, none of those things were worth worrying about in hindsight.
It was a bit of a bubble, with security everywhere. We normalised the trucks full of soldiers carrying guns, helicopters hovering overhead and navy boats off the coast, and by the end found it a bit annoying when they would randomly confiscate our fruit or sandwiches as we were screened going into venues. For reasons that we still don’t understand the lagoon where the Rowing and Canoe Sprints were held was the most strict of all. Perhaps they worried we would take aim at the competitors with our apples as they came past?
The public transport was exclusive to ticket holders during the games, and in some cases was only finished and opened a few days before things got underway. Together with the reserved motorway lanes when we were travelling in accredited cars, it was painless to get around. We normalised the three hours it would take to get to and from some of the remote venues at Deodoro (Equestrian, Rugby, Hockey and the X-Park which was the venue for Canoe Slalom and BMX) and especially when travelling with a group it all became part of the adventure of seeing truly world class competition up close.
A couple of times it got very windy, then the rain would roll in. One time we were driving alongside the Olympic Village and a traffic light got blown over right in front of us by the strong winds, and many of the recently installed road signs were twisted after the first storm. But, mostly it was warm and sticky. We normalised lathering ourselves in sunscreen and bug spray in the middle of winter. We never saw a mosquito.
Our base in Rio was the Sheraton Hotel near Leblon & Ipanema Beach, which was transformed into the NZ Club, complete with Sky TV on the big screens (the local TV coverage was much more focussed on Football, Volleyball and Basketball, so being able to watch Kiwis competing was much appreciated). Our hosts there did an amazing job looking after us, and staying on-site meant we had access to some after-match events. It was great to get back, especially after the hot days out watching events, and catch up on the other results we had missed. And it was a privilege to get to meet some of the team in person after they had finished their competition. They were all generous with their time - some brought their medals with them, others were nursing their bruises, but even those who had disappointing results were gracious and happy to talk. Even amongst the supporters there were many people for us to be inspired by - Stephen Tindall, Eion Edgar and Richie McCaw. They all must have wondered who we were!
We got to experience both ends of the spectrum - from the excitement of the cross country to the heartbreak of the dropped rails in the final jump at the Equestrian eventing; the relief and celebration of the gold medal at the Rowing; the buzz of the big Track & Field stadium the evening of the men's 10,000m final; the din of the Track Cycling velodrome as the men's sprint team came within a few centimetres of a gold medal in their final; the early morning walk down to watch the Canoe Sprint; the quiet focus of Lydia Ko’s first round in the Golf, followed later that day by the disappointment of the women’s Hockey semi-final loss; plus watching Eliza McCartney nearly botch the very first height in qualifying live, before sharing the excitement of her bronze medal performance in the final a few nights later with a packed NZ Club all chanting and cheering (there were a few sailors celebrating their successes and hockey team members and supporters drowning sorrows that night, I think).
But, the highlight for us all in terms of excitement and atmosphere would have to be the BMX, especially on the day of the finals with the music pumping (we were in the front row, so got the full blast) and the predominantly Colombian crowd turning it into a giant party, helped along by the performance of Mariana Pajón successfully defending her gold medal from London. It’s a brutal sport, with some big crashes and quite serious injuries occurring right in front of us. I tensed up at the start of every race. But, it is compelling viewing.
It’s said that sport is best watched live, because then you can influence the outcome. I used to believe it, but now I’m not sure. At least those we saw in person, and had a chance to talk with afterwards, were all so focussed and performing to the absolute extremes of their ability that I doubt that those of us on the sidelines could really make much of a difference in either direction. Observing elite competition, we even normalised personal bests, national records, Olympic records and in a couple of rare cases world records. But, still it was a thrill to see up close.
The only downside? It's four more years until we get to do it again in Tokyo. Can't wait...
It was cool to be in Rio during the Olympics. The events I really liked were trampolining, BMX and gymnastics.
Trampolining was fun because I liked looking at the people jumping because the big screen was a little behind real life, so we could watch them jumping twice. It was exciting because Dylan Schmidt got into the final (only just). I can’t do any of the tricks that they did on the trampoline, because I’m worried about falling off. It would be cool if I could, though.
I liked the BMX because it was really cool watching them do their jumps, especially on the second corner because the men and the women split up and the women go around one corner and the men jump over it, and that’s where Trent Jones fell off in his semi-final.
At the gymnastics, I thought it was unfair because other countries had lots of people and there was only one New Zealander, and Misha Koudinov had to do all of the activities by himself. I think I’d be best at the floor because I like to do cartwheels.
At the kids' club at the Sheraton they had lots of different things to do, like a ball pit, air hockey, table tennis, basketball practice, a football/basketball court, foosball, old fashioned arcade games, an X Box and a Playstation. One day we went there for the whole day. Mum and Dad weren’t even at the hotel, so we made our own lunches and had them in the NZ Club. What we were doing was we were sorting all the balls in the ball pit. The green ones were the hardest because we had to throw them up the slide and there were more of them than any other colour. Before we had taken away all the balls, I found a name tag. We played football and I played Mario and I didn’t know how to win it until one of the others played it and they showed me something I didn’t know - if you squatted on a pipe, you went down it. Our favourite game was on the Playstation and it was called Knack. We completed it once and then we were just about to finish it again and we had to leave.
I’m pretty sure the Olympics was what Rowan was looking forward to most this year, although I wasn’t too sure how I felt - I was looking forward to some of the events, especially the horsey ones, but not to all of us living in one hotel room for two weeks. But it was great fun. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the room, between going to events, hanging out in the New Zealand Club, swimming in the pool, or, in the case of the kids, spending as much time as possible at the hotel kids' club.
Rowan went to watch events every day, while the boys and I had a few days off throughout the Games, for which I was grateful - watching the Olympics is hard work. We’d planned to see a wide range of sports - canoe slalom, the two jumping days of the eventing, rowing, trampolining, athletics, track cycling, BMX, canoe sprints, triathlon. In addition, Kieran and I were given a couple of tickets to the gymnastics by a lovely American couple on our flight to Rio, who couldn’t make it, and Rowan especially made use of unsold tickets to things we hadn’t planned on seeing - lots of athletics and track cycling, as well as golf, hockey, and (with Jacob) the eventing dressage and women’s rugby. I also had a wonderful few hours at the team finals of the show jumping by myself watching horses jump enormous jumps.
As we were staying in the same hotel as the NZ Club, there was always the opportunity to watch sports (with Kiwi commentators) on the big screens, as well as to meet NZ supporters, officials and athletes. There were a few days when I had had enough people, though, and the boys and I watched a movie in our room and had room service and chilled for the evening.
We didn’t do as much sightseeing as maybe we could have, what with all the sport and the difficulty of extracting the kids from kids' club (“Do you want to meet Lisa Carrington? She’s got a gold and a bronze medal” “Yep, just let us finish this game of air hockey”). But we did head up to the statue of Christ the Redeemer one beautiful clear morning, and enjoyed the views over Rio from there. We stopped at the helipad on the way back down the mountain for a great view of the statue from the front, and the boys were interviewed by South African television on what they thought of the statue. That same night, they were interviewed by TV3 in NZ, so decided they were famous! We walked through Leblon a few times, to and from events, and went down once for dinner. One morning, I left everyone I knew behind, and walked to the far end of Ipanema Beach and back - just me and a few thousand others enjoying the Sunday morning sunshine!
I think we’ll definitely visit Rio again - South America hasn’t been well served in this year’s itinerary, and I’d like to spend more time here. And we’re already planning what we want to see at the Tokyo Olympics - BMX is right at the top of the list!
People all over the world are constantly asking us, "what is the best place you have been to"? I always answer "they have all been great for different reasons, so it is difficult to compare them". But if I had an actual list, Rio would definitely be in the top 3. One of the reasons I liked Rio so much is that the people are friendly and kind. At the hotel, which was transformed into NZ House, there was a kids' club, which we frequented when we were getting sick of doing schoolwork. The people there were amazing, always ready to play air hockey tournaments and video games with us. At the NZ Club, which was a bar gone Kiwi for the Olympics, there was always someone from home to talk to, or a waiter wanting to trade for one of our ever-increasing Olympic pin collection. The club was also the only place Kiwi athletes could buy alcoholic drinks, as they are banned in the village, so I got plenty of photos of me wearing a gold medal.
Another thing we did in Rio was go into the Olympic village (where the athletes live) and see the flag bearer(s) being chosen. This was extremely lucky, because only a small group of non-athletes/coaches got to come, and most were very important people. The only thing that's bad about the Olympic village is that the only food you can get inside is McDonalds or the catering tent (which was HUGE!); all the best places in Rio were outside the security area. I was thinking that they want all the athletes to get fat. Inside the village they have bike paths and tennis courts and playgrounds and swimming pools because the Olympic committee sells the apartments after the games to get the money back. But while the athletes live there, there are always big banners from the country in that building. Smaller countries only got a floor or two because they didn’t have many athletes, but countries like the USA had one and a half towers!
Another thing I liked in Rio was the stuff the government had done to make the city good for the Olympics, like installing a brand new, 3-line subway system that is so new you could eat off the floors! They also built a whole new airport, run by Changi - the Singaporean airport. As well as that they had added a new line to the already-existing BRT - Bus Rapid Transit - which has a separated lane on all the roads. The BRT is effectively a short train that can skip traffic jams. As well as those there was the regular local buses and trains that already existed. But as well as the public transport, Rio also built a whitewater stadium (for the canoe slalom), a BMX park, and entirely converted Rio’s most famous stadium, Maracana, for the soccer finals, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies.
Rio was amazing. Earlier this year we were worried that the Olympics might be moved because of zika, and the many people that thought the Olympics should be moved to a ‘more developed city’. But it turned out OK in the end, and I’m glad it did.