The Stuff of the Gods

 

A man named Bolt said he wanted to go even faster but his body did not respond. He got the gold three times nevertheless. A 19-year old girl (not 5 foot tall) got four golds and proved to the world she is only afraid of bees (“Attacked by a bee at the World Championships” – watch the video at: www.youtube.xom/watch?v=Az3ytVFM7ew). A 41-year old gymnast from Uzbekistan, competing for the seventh time, proved that age is just a number. A 31-year old swimmer added 6 medals to his already impressive collection, sometimes winning over the silver medalist by half a pool (the only time he got the silver himself was when the second competition in the evening started a few minutes after he had been on the podium, receiving the gold medal!). I had never seen anybody swim like that. Another swimmer lied to the local authorities and got himself in trouble, losing a couple of his sponsors. A golfer poked his club gently on the snout of a caiman. A capybara and an owl made that same golf course their home for the entire world to see on TV. A Chinese diver went down to his knees and proposed to his fiancée at the Medal ceremony. One man was – again – the best in the ten different sports events that constitute the Decathlon.  Maybe he should have received ten golds… New Zealand competitor in the 5,000 meter race, after colliding with her U.S. counterpart, helped her back to her feet and together they crossed the finish line. They did not get gold, silver or bronze, but something infinitely rarer, the Pierre de Coubertin medal, awarded only 17 times, for their extraordinary act of sportsmanship.

Not sure where I was or what I was doing in 2012 while the Olympics were taking place in London, a city I always admired, but Rio is going to be the Olympic Games I will remember forever. I watched it almost every night, in awe at the beauty of the city and the character of the athletes. Rio is an old love of mine, dating back to the first time my dad took us there for a family vacation in July – Brazil’s school winter break. All I know, decades later, is that there will never be another city like Rio. Troubled as it may be sometimes, so far from perfect, I’ll take the laughter and tears, and make them all my souvenirs, goes an old song by a French composer. For nearly three weeks, in the evenings after work, my world shrank to the Rio Olympic stadium, the Aquatic Center and the Olympics Village.

I happen to have a 9-year old nephew that knows everything about how the Olympic Games began in Greece. Courtesy of his 3rd grade school teacher and her degree in History.  He had no idea all of the above could happen in the 31st edition of the Olympiads though. Mount Olympus is still located in Greece, however, it felt as if a crowd of demi-gods descended into Rio this summer, to amaze the world. Mount Olympus became the Sugar Loaf; the many gods of the Greek mythology crystalized into the one with open arms embracing the city. I did not want it to end; I wanted to keep watching it every night; keep on watching Simone Biles defy gravity and Physics in general for she does everything I did not know the human body could do. As a Brazilian reporter told her when she mentioned how wonderful the fans had been and how much she wanted to return to Brazil for tourism, “Volte sempre, Simone, que voce e de ouro!” Come back soon, Simone, because you are made of gold!

I am already missing the faces and the views of Rio. The planet watched records being broken under the unstoppable capacity of human creatures. Men and women made of flesh and blood like us all, sitting in our couches and chairs. Astounding skills and resilience paraded in front of our eyes in all shapes, colors, forms; speaking a myriad of languages – the living proof there is no limit when humans put their minds into transforming dreams into goals. Then goals become gold.

As Rio passed the baton on to Tokyo and the lights at Maracana stadium went out, the hardest thing was to return to every-day TV. I will miss the faces and the names who inspired the world for three weeks. The charisma (Greek for gift) of the athletes was a brutal contrast to the reality of our politicians; most of them men and women without a single drop of charisma in them,  but all running for the gold at the White House this November.

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