The Olympics have come and gone, forever leaving an impression on the city of Rio and the world’s perception of the city. Our names aren’t in any record books but we will forever feel a part of the Games for just having witnessed them.
I’d say it was a once in a lifetime event but I hope this isn’t the case. Like many past Olympic spectators we meet in Rio, we are hooked. Time to start saving for Tokyo 2020.
Hats off to the organizers and the City of Rio for the fantastic execution of the games.
Do you want to know how good it was?
We have just two measly complaints. First, the ugly and overpriced t-shirts available for sale. Second, the distance between venues and the BRT bus stop at Olympic Park. In the end, we saved money not buying souvenirs and got in some exercise, so all is forgiven.
We could see the years of thought and planning that went into every aspect of the games.
There was ample signage and helpers at each metro station. With exception to one bus after the golf match, we never waited for more than a few minutes for a train or bus. The crowd politely squeezed onto the transit without any complaints or troublemakers.
The 70K volunteers seemed at times to outnumber spectators and I must say I was wishing I signed up as a volunteer. They got sneakers, pants, shirts, hats, tote bags, jackets and more in the signature yellow, green and orange color scheme that was emblazoned with “Rio 2016”. This swag was so nice that I would volunteer for the next summer games just to get the outfit.
Security and ticket line attendants processed thousands of spectators into the stadiums with no waiting. The 85K strong security forces patrolled the city with machine guns at the ready. The military vehicles, navy ships, and soldiers made it feel like a city under siege, and by all means, it was. In this day and age, we’d expect the same at any event of this scale no matter where it was in the world.
Cariocas (Rio natives) represented the majority at each sporting event and their passion for sports and their athletes was contagious. Each stadium rocked with their cheers from start to end.
Food choices at the venue were limited to popcorn, pizza (sometimes), hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken sandwiches but it was affordable, as was the beer. Toilets were always clean and had toilet paper. I can’t say any of this about Metlife Stadium back home.
You get the point…two happy Zika-free spectators here.
As a follow-up to my previous Olympic blog, read on to see what we saw around Rio and the events we attended our second week in Rio.
Normally we rely on free walking tours to get a feel for the cities we visit, however, Rio is massive so on our first event free day we opted to take an organized van tour around the city.
The tour picked us up at 9:30 and drove us past Ipanema Beach and the bar where The Girl From Ipanema was penned. Then we headed past Logoa, the lagoon where rowing events were being held and many of the hospitality houses are based.
Our first stop was at Sao Conrado Beach, famous for being the landing spot for the hang gliders. Our guide pointed out the launching spot but there were no hang gliders operating during the Olympics due to airspace restrictions. I have a feeling a lot of hearts were broken when people heard they wouldn’t get to hang glide during their visit to Rio.
Next, we headed passed Pele’s old house towards Tijuca National Park which is the urban rainforest. At this stop, we took a five-minute nature walk up a trail to see a waterfall.
We arrived at the must-see stop, Christ the Redeemer, just after noon. We would be there for the next five hours. An hour and a half wait to start the security screening, 45 minutes to wait for our bus number to be called, another 30-minute line to wait for a bus. We expected a wait and crowds, but it was frustrating to wait in line for another line.
We finally did get to the top of Corcovado Mountain and found a few locations to take a good selfie with Christ. We got there just in time because as we were waiting for the bus the wind kicked up obscuring the statue with clouds.
Maybe it was the crowds, or the long wait, or my developing fever and chills but I was underwhelmed by the sight of our first New Seven Wonders of the World. It’s an iconic art deco statue with a beautiful setting and sweeping views over the city but by no means a marvel, wondrous or breathtaking.
After further research on just how this site would rank with the likes of Petra and Machu Picchu, I see that corporate sponsors and persuasive marketing convinced millions of Brazilians to text in a vote. If only Cambodia had the funding to promote a true marvel like Angkor Wat in the same manner.
As the sky was darkening we still had more to see, our guide pointed out the favela where scenes from Fast Five and Incredible Hulk were shot. We drove through Santa Theresa and stopped for dinner and snapped some photos of the tiled stairs that Snoop Dogg and Pharrell sat on in the music video for “Beautiful”.
The tour would normally end by dropping us off at Sugarloaf Mountain but it had been a long day and thankfully no one asked to stop there. We planned to make it another day but that wouldn’t happen.
Sadly, aside from walking along Copacabana Beach, this tour was the most sightseeing we did in Rio. I came down with a bad cold and used the other free day we had to lay low.
Truth be told, I am not a football (soccer) fan so it may surprise you when I say that one of the must do things on our South American bucket list was to attend a football game.
A game that can end with no goals or a tie just doesn’t interest me, however, I am enthralled by the passion of the fans. The loud hum of chants and cheers (or jeers) is unlike any other sporting event.
I wanted to feel that energy first hand. Where better to experience it than at Maracanã Stadium? Little did I know when I purchased men’s semifinal football tickets that we’d be fortunate enough to see Brazil play on home turf!
Now we’ve all heard of some football games have gotten out of hand. To curb the fan violence at Maracanã stadium they don’t even allow beer to be sold at regular season games. The first rule of not being mauled would be to blend with the masses. I purchased one of the scores of yellow soccer tee-shirts found in every store and Chris got a Brazil scarf.
Inside the stadium, were relieved to find that our seats, and most others in the upper tier, were covered by an overhang that would shade us from the sun. The seats filled with yellow shirts and Brazilian flags and the proud Carioca spectators belted out their lovely national anthem.
Just fourteen seconds after kickoff we witnessed Neymar score the fastest goal in Olympic history. The crowd erupted. It all happened so fast we weren’t even sure if the goal counted as we couldn’t see a replay, scoreboard or clock during the game.
Sure enough, it was good and Brazil would go on to score five more unanswered goals against Honduras. With each goal, the Brazil fan two rows in front of us grew more and more brazen with his taunts of the Honduras fans in the next section. All in good fun though, they shook hands after the game.
Though the game was a blowout we were happy to see so many occasions to celebrate the goals. By the end of the day we had one of the many chants committed to memory, “Vamos a la playa, oh, oh, oh. Oh, oh, oh, oh” translation, “Let’s go to the beach…”.
Our athletics tickets were for the daytime session where many of the preliminary events were being held.
We watched long-legged gals fling themselves over a pole as high as their head in women’s high jump.
As much as we tried to keep up with the men and women’s 4X100 relays, they were over as quickly as I could snap a picture.
We saw two of the men’s decathlon events, pole vault, and the discus throw.
We also got the opportunity to witness our first and only medal event. Kerron Clement took home gold for the USA in the men’s 400-meter hurdle race. Unfortunately, the medal ceremony was held later so we didn’t get to see that.
Though most of our events weren’t the prime time events that would be held later that day, it was great to sit inside Olympic Stadium and appreciate the speed and power of the athletes in person.
After an 116-year hiatus, women’s golf returned to the Olympics! I love playing golf and I’ve been to a few men’s and women’s major’s tournaments which were really fun to watch live. Olympic golf was even better because of the representation of competitors and spectators from so many countries.
Tickets for round three women’s golf were just $25 which is a steal for a full day of sporting watching the world’s top golfers. Plus, there was a chance of seeing the world’s largest rodent, the capybara, which is the size of a pig. Despite media reports of the course being overrun with them, we did not see one.
There were 20 threesomes in the tournament so the first teed off at 7:30 am. We arrived around 10:30 am and watched the last five threesomes introduced on the tee box of the first hole which was perfect timing. The last threesome were the leaders from the previous two rounds and included Stacy Lewis from the USA. The other two members of Team USA were Lexi Thompson and Gerina Pillar.
It was striking how young the women golfers were, some as young as 18. The average age of the 60 golfers was 27 years old, five years younger than the average age of men’s Olympic golfers. Most of the women had men caddies but Canadian Brooke Henderson stood out from the pack because her caddie was her sister.
Some spectators followed only their fellow Olympian around the course but since we had three to root on we hopped around and saw the later third of the threesomes.
We arrived at the eighth hole just in time to see Lydia Ko of New Zealand make a hole in one, the first of her life. After the final round, Lydia would land a silver medal making it an Olympics to remember and hopefully not her last as she is just 19 years old.
The weather was very windy but that didn’t seem to be affecting the golfer’s much as they were hitting laser straight tee shots. It was pleasant for us as spectators until we got home and realized we had sunburns where we missed slopping on the sunscreen half awake at 7am.
In the end, no Americans medaled in the tournament. Inbee Park of South Korea took home the well-deserved gold medal.
The Final Tally
If watching the Olympics on TV has made you want to visit Rio now is the best time to plan a trip. Brazilian visa fees (normally $160 USD) are waived for Americans until September 18th. The Paralympics run from September 7th – 18th and will give you an Olympic experience at a fraction of the price.
Speaking of price, I think you might be surprised just how affordable it was to attend this year’s Olympics. Here’s a breakdown of what it cost us to fulfill our dream:
|11 Nights Airbnb Lodging 2 Blocks From Copacabana Beach||$1,749 ($1K Olympic markup)|
|Tickets to 9 Olympic Events||$803|
|Food and Drinks||$378|
|1 Day City Tour||$163 ($46 Olympic markup)|
|Brazil Visas||$0 ($320 savings over regular rates)|
|Airfare||$0 (booked with points)|
|Total Olympic Experience for Two People
The affordable ticket prices and ample availability made this a red letter year for spectators.
Being in South America and booking airfare with points shaved thousands off our total. Paying for the tickets and accommodations several months to a year in advance helped spread the pain. It also meant we could afford to cover the minor expenses in our daily trip budget. Having a kitchen in our apartment meant we could eat most meals at home and save money by grocery shopping. The city tour was a splurge but we would have seen only a fraction of the city if we hadn’t done it.
For us, the experience was worth every penny (Real).