At Olympics, friends show up at games and in the streets.
Guest-viewpoint by Philip Taele
First item on our list was to visit the Christ the Redeemer statue. We called Ubër to take us there, but our driver said we had to either take a train ride or a tour van to the top.
The driver took us to the vans where we continued our journey. You could see the majestic beauty of Rio as we traveled higher up toward the statue.
It was a high traffic area on a really narrow road as tourists and taxis were going back and forth on the path to Jesus, but only the tour vans could stop at the very top.
You knew in the pictures that the statue was massive but to see it right in front of you was unbelievable. Visitors from all over the world showed up with their country’s flags in honor of the Olympics. Even ESPN analysts Dan Patrick and Cris Collinsworth, along with Dhani Jones, were there to view the majestic city; we had to take pictures with them.
With pride, I opened up my American flag in front of big Jesus and took plenty of pictures with fellow Americans.
At that moment, I knew that I was more than just a tourist and Olympic spectator. At that moment, I knew that I would be representing the United States of America throughout my stay.
The opening ceremony was one of the biggest moments that I was looking forward to. There was a big gathering for the viewing party in what appeared to be downtown Rio. On a giant screen, we got to see the countries walk out one at a time.
When Team USA came on screen, I was overwhelmed at the opportunity to yell the USA chant in front of everyone along with other Americans spread out in the crowd. We had a few Danish guys sing along with the U.S. national anthem, out of key, but all in fun.
As we were leaving, I ran into a flag-carrying man from India who wanted to take a picture of me holding my flag. I told him that I was from San Antonio and he told me he was a huge Tim Duncan fan.
Every day after that, it was always a tough decision: enjoy Rio or enjoy the Olympic Games.
The event that Steve really wanted to see was men’s basketball and we were fortunate enough to snag tickets for Team USA versus Patty Mills and Team Australia.
On the ride over, we shared the Ubër lift with married couple Icaro and Monique from Recife, Brazil, who had tickets to the same game. It was a two-hour ride from Lais’s home to Olympic Park but fortunately everyone, including the Ubër driver, spoke English.
When we got to the arena, we took selfies with Icaro and Monique, exchanged email addresses, and went our separate ways.
During the game, Steve and I cheered for Team USA, with Patty Mills on the side. Sitting next to me was a man from Sao Paolo (who could speak English) and next to him was a man from Recife (who only knew Portuguese, but the man from Sao Paolo translated for us).
As I was cheering for Team USA to win, the two men next to me were just excited to be there to see the game … this was a monumental moment.
NBA basketball is normal for me being from San Antonio. For the Brazilians, it was likely a once in lifetime moment to experience NBA players in action.
Carmelo Anthony and Team USA pulled out a tough victory over a defiant Australian team, but it was the excitement of the Brazilians that truly defined the spirit of the Olympic Games.
I will likely never meet those gentlemen again but it was comforting knowing that not even a language barrier was able to interfere with our shared moment.
Leaving Olympic Park, we ran into Icaro and Monique again on the bus. We got to share our moments from the game and eventually parted ways on the subway.
Steve, I and our friend Shannon from Wisconsin ultimately wound up on Copacabana Beach where we ended up on NBC at 1:30 a.m. with Ryan Seacrest. I got to yell the USA chant on TV and got a high five from Seacrest off air.
We visited other sites as well such as Ipanema Beach, located on the southern part of Rio; Escadaria Selarón, The famous steps in Brazil that were created by Chilean-born Jorge Selaron as his token of appreciation to the Brazilian people and the Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain), located on a peninsula next to Guanabara Bay.
We also saw table tennis and women’s fencing, featuring San Antonio natives Courtney and Kelly Hurley on Team USA before Steve and I returned to San Antonio Aug. 13.
Beyond the Olympics what truly makes Rio de Janeiro wonderful are the people who live there.
They are the heart of the city and they welcomed us by literally opening their homes and showing us around. As Bob Costas stated at the closing of the Olympic Games, “The people we have encountered here are among the warmest, friendliest and most charmingly high spirited anywhere.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.