Saturday, August 6, 2016

Olympic Surprises All Day and Night

It felt like Christmas on August in Rio de Janiero on Friday.

Like waking up with anticipation to see what gifts Santa delivered, I rolled out of bed  unsure of what to expect from the Olympic opening ceremony. 

After spending most of the morning tending to light housekeeping in the apartment (i.e. more unpacking and organizing pins), I embarked to Copacabana to check out the daytime elements of the Olympic Torch Relay. 

It was fun to see the Nissan Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn pass the flame to a Brazilian celebrity only steps from the beach (disclosure, Nissan is a client of UEG Worldwide, which engaged me on some freelance work for Rio). 

It was astounding to share a pre-Games conversation with three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh-Jennings! Hello! 

The surprise visit took place when I stopped by a colleague's hotel to drop off some Olympic tickets. 

Walsh-Jennings was finishing lunch with her parents and sister, and she graciously shared about five minutes with this fan looking to cheer her on at her fourth gold medal match. 

I mentioned to the beach volleyball icon my thanks for her answering my questions at past Team USA media events. One of my questions to her at the spring Media Summit -- asking about the extent to which parenting shifted career opportunities -- apparently appeared in the new documentary film "Kerri Walsh-Jennings: Gold Within" inspiring a bump in blog traffic.

Also thanks her for three Olympiads of memories as I attended all three of her gold medal Games. 

Walsh-Jennings is definitely in it to win it, bringing up her No. 1 goals and punctuating them with "when we win gold" multiple times. 

In response to the Rio 2016 blogger pins given to her relatives, she presented me with her personalized golden pin for this Olympiad (now a treasured keepsake of our chat). 

I headed back to Hotel Vermont to meet my inbound-from-Minneapolis long-time friend Joanne, who flew in to Rio on her 43rd birthday. Her arrival was surprisingly early, and we had just enough time to hit Ipanema Beach then grab coffee and a snack before heading to Maracana stadium. 

Back at the apartment to get dressed for the ceremony, Joanne entered our ninth floor open-air unit to find a stray pigeon in our bathroom. She ducked, I hollered, the bird fluttered out the panoramic window and we exhaled and exclaimed "that was awesome!" a la "Tommy Boy" Chris Farley.

Brazil's Olympic opening ceremony impressed me on many fronts. I loved most the portrayal of the city and favela construction, the aeroplane launch, amazing music and the energy is provided, and the magnificent and new mobile that encircles the Olympic cauldron (a new twist on cauldron design). 

Back in Atlanta, my mentor and friend Lee messaged me the hometown broadcast was "trippy" in his eyes, and I concur with his description. 

But for every psychedelic and colorful element, a more somber segment dropped in with interesting results. That cauldron stole the show with both conservative/simple design and thoughtful points of light reflection. 

From our twentieth row seats in section 124 -- steps away from the athlete parade entryway -- we snapped photos of Michael Phelps carrying the flag for Team USA, IOC President Thomas Bach's on-stage remarks, and one or two thong-wearing dancers before the Olympic flame's arrival. 

Very best surprise: The brilliant idea for the athletes to help plant an Olympic forest as a major Rio Games legacy. The poem read by Dame Judi Dench, the mirrored seed carts and their magical unveiling of fully-grown ferns was extremely creative. 

Immediately following the event's final fireworks, Joanne and I spent a few minutes on a "ticket walk" (retrieving left-behind tickets to sell and fund future Olympic travels). 

My tired eyes spotted an open door to the floor of the stadium, and without a single sideways glance from security, the two of us walked out across the entire Maracana floor to photograph selfies with the new Olympic cauldron. 

We stopped short of running up the steps where the final torchbearer took care of business only minutes before. But we learned and appreciated the three-dimensional golden spiral that spread the light of the Olympic flame across the venue. 

Our final surprise was discovery of access to a VIP dining area and views from the press tribunes, where we snagged some media guides to translate the opening ceremony's meaning. 

We discovered that children or volunteers meticulously wrote messages of good luck and other well-wishes on the individual pieces of confetti flown over the athletes, a nice touch!

I'm satisfied to post this summary without reading it, ready to dream about the next 16 days and get going to athletic events on Saturday. Will also post video tomorrow featuring the mobile cauldron in action on Friday night. 

Bravo, Brazil!

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

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