Olympic Dreams (Brazil)

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

A few years ago I went to Rio de Janiero and I left with some pretty specific goals. The first being that I would be back next time speaking Portuguese and second working there during the Olympics (at that time I was also down with the idea of World Cup but you know me I am way more than just a soccer fan so really Olympics and Running are my cup of tea, well that and I had just moved to Panamá).

Knowing this was the plan, my first month in Panamá (where I landed to work back then) I was already signed up for Portuguese classes. They said I could learn in 6 months, well I made it 4 months as we were originally 3 students that turned into just me and I got bored fast that no one else would show up to class since being new to Panama I enjoyed the conversations beyond the professor. My Profe was cool and I later went back to her for private lessons. About a few months out before a planned move to Brazil, turns out a job offer came up in Colombia and I decided to take it because I saw it as an excellent challenge. With the move I stopped studying as I was now not going to move to Brazil and I was way to busy anyway. For me Portuguese has never been the same as my love for Spanish. With Portuguese I liked the language and its challenge but I never dived into the culture or details, then again Rio when I visited for the first time was great but it never made it as a favorite city, just a great city, so it was hard for me to have this same passion for the language….I think this changed on this last visit as I became surprised at my level with the language and how connecting with people by speaking Portuguese made me feel proud, more welcome, and more interested.

Well as you know I never moved to Brazil so that whole working thing definitely didn´t happen for me…well kind of….Turns out that working in Colombia oddly fulfilled half of this dream of working during the Olympics. Several things happened that make me feel as though I did not fail on the second end of the goal.

Nearly a year ago when I arrived in Colombia one of my work goals was to sponsor athletes like I had in Panamá so I began researching and connecting with athletes. As a sports brand athletes are a huge influence to consumers and I had no clue how Colombia had not yet sponsored any. So I began sponsoring athletes and in the end some of these athletes qualified to the Olympic Games in Rio….excellent job by them…not an easy task for any athlete, a major goal that would provide great experiences for them. In addition Colombia had one Nike Global Athlete, an athlete sponsored directly by Nike not the local team in Colombia, and she was determined to win gold. This athlete is Caterine Ibarguen, a triple jump queen, and as it turns out is the first Colombian Athlete to win a medal in Track and Field for Colombia (London, silver). She is very well known here in Colombia. So in total 6 Nike Colombia athletes went to the Olympics. Btw – she won gold!

What does this all mean for me?
I have a lot of work to do!

The breakdown:
Those 5 local athletes made me do several things. I was in charge of making sure they received their race day shoes, made it to the Nike House for their relaxing and special treatment that only Nike can offer, and well plan some runs around their competitions to celebrate with them that feeling of being Unlimited.
Then there is this global athlete who is determined for that Olympic Gold, she was the tough one! This required first getting in touch with her (maybe the hardest part), getting to know her, getting photos of her in action, asking her permission, creating campaign art with help from the brand, and again celebrating her soon to be accomplishment and telling the story about it. She is Catherine Ibarguen!

The Work:
In Bogotá I had worked months on this ever changing project toward the Olympics, with plenty of ups and downs. There were so many restrictions and something called Rule 40 that made things complicated. Rule 40 says that no publicity of Olympic athletes is allowed 40 days out from the Olympic Games from a brand. It is a way to protect both athletes during this time and official sponsors to the Games. Something that had loop holes and we could work around thankfully. To get a bit of an understanding, for example, during these 40 days athletes are not allowed to mention brands when referencing Olympics on Social Media, and the same goes for the brands, they can use athletes only when they are part of an ongoing campaign not publicity because they will compete or if they win (this also has some exceptions, for instance if the brand sponsors the whole Olympic team should the country permit it).

Any way several things I was doing was getting those needed photos, working with the team to create an ongoing campaign, creating art and getting permission for placement locally to celebrate the win, and planning several elevated runs around 2 of these athletes.
Our local campaign was Colombia Sin Limites (Unlimited You globally). For the 2 runs we planned one for Caterine, on the 14th, the final of triple jump (also women´s marathon) at a local track (our first speed run on a real track) where runners enjoyed a training and the celebration of the Colombian athlete. The other elevated run was to celebrate Gerald Giraldo on the 21st as he ran the marathon on the last day of the Olympics. We celebrated by running 12km, our first NRC Long Run, up to Lake Guatavita known for the Legend of El Dorado….in search of Gold….rightfully so.

Some how all of this work toward the Olympics wouldn´t have satisfied me in pursuit of my goal although with all that I did toward the campaign it appears that I was already successful. Instead I needed to be there, experience it, be with the athletes, see the events, successes, strength, power and campaign in person. I asked for vacation, a vacation that was very needed and well deserved but required so much more energy than anticipated to actually get permission for that I still don´t understand why it was so tough to get 6 days off. Either way I am happy that I was granted this permission to fulfill dreams.

So on August 12 I traveled on vacation to Rio and while there I somehow was still working….don´t worry this is normal, I love sports and everything I did as work was what I would have done anyway. My first few days were spent coordinating with athletes on the ground, trying some local NRC and NTC sessions so I could go back having learned from these excellent examples, checking out the spaces and stores and just absorb this whole Olympic vibe that my brand was offering.

A few days in I went to the Nike House where the Nike athletes and managers go for hospitality during the games, here is where I finally felt the goal being accomplished. As I signed in I was greeted as Sports Marketing VIP. I swear that is all I needed for me to feel as though I belonged and was working during the Olympics, as it was true I was attending to the Colombian athletes and had put in all the above mentioned work to deserve this title. Although I had left my coworkers to finish executing what I had set up, by the way, they did great and I am sooo proud of my whole team in Colombia and Panama. Meanwhile I was on scene engulfed in the Olympics for real, gaining the experience I was seeking to a certain extent. I met people I knew and then became introduced to new people as golden athletes walked around everywhere. I felt connected and in the right place and wouldn’t trade that experience for the world…it is just that the whole world was right there in one place….something only found at the Olympics…I was right where I needed to be finally, very proud and happy about it (although this i really didn´t realize until the Closing ceremony and yes I went).

Besides work, yes i was on vacation and yes I enjoyed the games. My first night in town I spent walking around the neighborhood (I stayed in Botafogo), getting lost, finding my bearings in the dark and eventually made it to Copacabana beach (15 min walk had I known where I was on the map). Right there on Copacabana was the Beach Volleyball Arena….I used to play volleyball and this was one sport I wanted to see, I managed to find tickets on the street and in I went…but not before having a beer with the local vendor to split my change. Excellent negotiation and start I must say! The games I saw were 2 Italian men´s teams, one of which went to the final (Brazil won) and the other was the US women team with Walsh Jennings….amazing!!! Who would have thought I would be lucky to see these teams…I went in with a Brazilian flag all supportive and local and thinking the men´s team from Brazil was playing (turns out they played a bit earlier, well and maybe I took too long to get another beer, photos, bathroom stop, etc). Anyway the atmosphere in the arena was excellent…just what one should see in Brazil, right? Copacabana in general was the place to be, there were people everywhere at all hours.

In addition to Beach Volleyball I went to 3 Track and Field evening sessions and a surprise attendance to the Closing Ceremony. I would have tried for more events in other disciplines but I didn´t purchase in advance and once there days were long and full of activity so much that I never found a moment to purchase anything else. My first track session was the night Caterine competed and won gold, it was the same night the 400m world record was broken, and Bolt won the 100m race…such an amazing night that started off soo soo wrong. All the events except a few were actually in Rio while the rest were like 45 min or more away by metro, train or bus in Barra de Tujica. This first night I left 1 hour or more ahead of time but got lost for 30 minutes trying to find the metro in Botafogo´s maze like streets. Finally on the metro I transferred to the new line 4 and then to a bus to get to Olympic Park…I arrived on time!!….but I soon found out this was not the place 😦 …someone said I needed to be at Maracana and I was like that was so much closer to Botafogo…but then turns out they had no clue either and I really needed to get to Enganhao…I was like where? Another 30 min or so drive in a different direction…so I walked/ran forever to find the non existing cabs in this zone, once in one we made it in 20 min bc there was no traffic since we were soo late. I got out of the taxi and ran into the stadium just in time to see the 400m race start, the last jump for Caterine, and Bolt run the 100m. Luckily this night some Nike people had offered me a ride back and so I went back home in a van….In short it was a very long way to go get to see only 4 events; whole city of Rio tour using 5 different modes of transport (including my own 2 feet). After that ordeal I knew where I was going always!

The other 2 track events I went to were the following night and then the last night of Track and Field. For the second Track session my friend Anca joined me having arrived earlier that day, so she too got an Olympic event on her first night. The coolest part of this session was the Brazilian, Thiago, who won pole vault….the stadium was not full, it rained most of the night but the crowd was amazing. When he went for his last few jumps and then won (also Olympic record)….I don´t remember much else of this night….except his win and the amazing joy and pride shared by the locals as he won gold…well I might also remember the women´s discus too for the tiny Chinese girl who threw far and let out a squeak as she did it. Wait, wait, it is coming back we also saw the final for 200m women´s, where the girl from Bahama threw herself at the line for the gold…a disappointment for Alyson Felix in second, it was not even a fall instead an all out body being thrown, I am not sure that should be allowed, but it made for an entertaining race.

The last event we attended was to see the relay teams, we saw 4 x 400m men & women, we also got in the 5,000m Mo Farah win, high jump women´s win and javelin men. This might have been my favorite night, in terms of entertainment but not for the races….the javelin was returned by a remote controlled car, and there were some well dressed cheese heads from Holland next to us…I don´t know about you but all this was pretty exciting :D.

Before getting to the luck of the draw Closing Ceremony I attended lets top it off with a bit about the touristy stuff.

This trip was Anca´s first to Rio so we had to get in some usual Rio tourist stops but I made sure to change it up a bit so that it was also new for me. The main ones were Corcovado where Cristo is located and Pao de Azucar with sweeping views of the whole city. Both all new experiences for me. Corcovado we went up in a tram which I did not take last time, so we started this tourist gem off perfectly and we headed up for evening sunset and stayed for lights on…also new! For Pao de Azucar I went up the day she arrived but earlier with a friend running the back route from Praia Urca…so even before we went up it was already new….when Anca and I went up all was relaxing, sunny and warm, and somewhat cloud covered and new, I think last time I was cold and rushed in a tour group. Oh and I am pretty sure Copacabana was also on her list and we went several times, once to tan, again most days were not the best for this but it is Rio, people are always at the beach.

On my list for tourist stops were Jardim Botanico, Niteroí and one trip somewhere outside of Rio (we choose Ilha Grande). All got checked off. 😀 Jardim I did before Anca arrived and it was lovely with huge plants everywhere and evening shadows as the sun was setting. The perfect place to read, write, take pictures, or if they let you, run. Niteroi we fit in after Pao de Azucar and took a ferry. I basically wanted to see the MAC, a museum designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Neimeyer…we barely made it but they let us in for photos and the last bit of sundown….again great views here. Lastly, Ilha Grande, a large island, such as the name suggests, we stayed on for ohhh, 1 whole day (slept 1 night), it was relaxing, filled with beaches and hiking. Even Anca did a fair share of hiking…as usual I was extreme on the hiking…but hey I got in 2 extra beaches 😀 and enjoyed the routes (legs were dead afterwards though). It would have been nice to spend a day or two more here but oh well never enough time.

Besides the tourist and Olympics stuff I also got in a few runs as I love running in Rio…so many beautiful places to run. This time I tried out a few new running areas and I also ran part of the men´s marathon, chased down a few marathoners and cheered for them including Colombia´s Gerard Giraldo. I did one NRC run my second day that was very cool and as I learned later we ran part of the marathon route including the domestic airport (very cool) and ended in the Olympic Boulevard…I also got a surprise as a friend I had met a few years back at a Nike event in Panama was there too, it was so nice to run and catch up with her.

My final whoo raaw was a lucky one, my flight out was the 21st, the last day of the Olympics in Rio. My flight was scheduled for 7 pm, the same time as the Closing Ceremony, I had tried several times to change my ticket but without any luck I just stuck to it as I was more than happy to return home. Days in Rio were long and filled with activities, it was also winter in Rio and weather was rainy and not very warm most days, I ended up sick and was ready to rest on the trip back. As fate would have it my airline had some issues with my ticket…a recent merger TAM with LAN still had a few kinks…turns out sometimes both systems don´t register the flight and in my case my flight out didn´t even have my name on the list. As the airline looked for a change to my flight they told me this information and that they were not able to get me out that night but tomorrow. While they set everything up I tried to buy tickets to the Closing Ceremony and figure out what to do with my luggage and what not…all while my cell battery was dying and airport wifi didn´t help by being slow…not only this but my credit card decided to put a hold on the account so I had to call and let them know it was me. I was stressed as I was not able to buy online, I said screw this I am headed to the stadium and we´ll just hope there is a ticket. I checked my bag, took my taxi vouture form the airline and headed to Maracana…of course everything was closed off, so I had to walk there, with my valuables in hand I was hoping security was actually working and no one would rob me on the dark streets leading up to the stadium as I walked alone….at the ticket office I was in luck, there were seats, and I was in! Of course Anca was already inside and on the other side of the stadium but we made it!!!

The closing ceremony for me was a highlight, I mean everything was great on this trip, but it was here that despite the rain and cold I was happiest as it dawned on me that the thousands of people in there were from everywhere in the world, I was in the perfect place. I saw a Colombian flag draped over someone 2 rows ahead, a British one to my left, some from the US behind me, Japanese in the front row and who knows what other nations I was next to. At some point I found myself dancing, it was nothing forced or copied from anyone around me it was just….

The fireworks were awesome; jaw dropping, the shows entertaining and oh so fun. To see the never ending athletes pile in the stadium….the flags from everywhere, one of the oldest Olympic sports, running, be given the last of the medals (the marathon), the torch be put out and passed off to Tokyo as the whole stadium celebrated, literally the closing to the amazing games that were held in Rio de Janiero in August of 2016 was so gratifying and worth every cent. There was so much to be thankful for, not just the amazing athletes from around the world and their performances but also all the locals who welcomed us all in and showed us their city, they made sure we were all safe and made sure we didn´t leave without knowing about their marvelous city and culture. Rio is always quite vibrant and it definitely was during the Olympics too. What a way to close out the games….it was like Carnival, something Rio knows all too well. As the ceremony ended I stayed to avoid lines and with my section not full I walked down to the first row as the party kept going. Athletes would walk by and pause for photos, dancers kept the moment alive giving us their costumes and dancing/posing for us. I just kept dancing and enjoying the moment because as soon as you went inside the world was normal again (just lots of people gathered, drinking, getting ready to leave, taking pictures, etc)

I returned from Rio happy, mind relaxed but body tired and sick. An experience to remember for sure and with that Closing it sure looks tempting to go to Tokyo in 2020….we´ll see.

Goals met….you could say so!

Facts: 207 countries in attendance, 10,000 athletes competed in 31 sports, 27 records broken (mostly in swimming), US with the most medals, Phelps totaling 28 medals in his career and Bolt´s last Olympics…oh and 3.7 billion media reach (sports are getting more and more important).

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