Sunday, August 21, 2016

Gold In Rio As Time In Brazil Comes To A Close

My time in Rio has come to an end with an exciting final few days of action. As you know by now the USA Women won gold for the second straight Olympics becoming the first ever team in women's water polo to do that. With the win comes a ton of media exposure, as evidenced by the photo above which is the set for Ryan Seacrest's last night show here in Rio.

After the big win it is mayhem. As the media waits patiently the players scatter to meet with parents and take pictures etc. Eventually they go through a host of tv and print interviews. That's followed by a visit to the International Broadcast Center for more interviews and video features. After a quick stop to see family it was back on the road for three of the athletes to visit the Seacrest show.

The following day there was an opportunity to go on SportsCenter with soccer great Julie Foudy. The set for ESPN and other non rights holders can be small but the views are usually pretty cool and that was the case here. A great shot of the Olympic park. In addition to all of that video there were tons of well written articles about the team that came out in the last few days. Be sure to check the @USAWP Twitter feed for a lot of those great features.

Once all of that was done there wasn't a whole lot of time left in Rio but finally we went to a real Brazilian churrascaria. This is one of those places where the different meats don't stop until you put up the stop sign. It was very good. At many points you don't even know what meat you are eating but it's like "sure add this to my plate." It's funny as the servers are inches away from your head carving a piece of ham. You have to feel for the guy sent out there with chicken. I love chicken in many forms but at a place like this almost nobody wants the chicken. He wanders around praying somebody will take the chicken off his hands but no dice.

In addition to all the meats they bring out random plates of french fries, onion rings and rice. China buffet aficionados will recognize this as a well placed trap! In addition to the salad bar there are these other items designed to keep you from maximum meat consumption. The choice is yours.

After all the meats subsided they brought out a dessert tray with some great items. You were going purely on sight as our waiter explained everything in Portuguese, thankfully in any language I know an ice cream sundae when I see one.  Overall a great meal. Also a move I've noticed in Brazil is waiters will bring around drinks even if you didn't want, kind of like an impulse buy. This works very well for beer, they bring beers to people who didn't even know they wanted them and boom now it's on your check.

As we wrap up in Rio some other things to mention. At the mall across the street there is a massive ball pit. You just don't see these anymore in the US. I remember them being so much. Are they in anyway hygenic? No sir, but I would have hoped there was some technology for a self cleaning ball pit that has come along in the last 20 years.

Uber is the way to go here as I have mentioned before but wherever you are driving, after 10pm red lights are merely stop signs. I think in some areas this is probably a safety precaution but it sure does speed up the ride. I used the bus/subway system for the first time a few days back and it worked out really well. Also a note on the people here, 99 percent that I have come across have been super friendly and helpful. Everything may not have run as smooth as possible but it didn't dampen their spirit.

You have certainly seen people selling flowers at a stop light in the US or people trying to watch your window. The other day I noticed a much more organized business. People would drape bags of candy (I think it was candy) over each car's drivers side mirror going about 5 or 6 cars deep. Then they'd run back near the light and by that time people had decided if they wanted to buy or not (I saw no buyers). Before the light changed green they'd pull all the bags off the cars and do it again. See photo below.

Well that's all for my time in Rio, thanks for reading and apologies there weren't more blog posts. As I look back on 2008 and 2012 the more social media and video grow the less time there seems to be to document the everyday events that make up a trip like this. Hopefully this gave you a small look into life at the Olympics.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Back To Christ The Redeemer, Brazilian Pizza & Beach Volleyball

For this week's episode of our weekly web show the "Counter Attack" we had to have some great views to show people the sights of Rio. This was especially necessary after last week when it rained so we had to go inside to the hotel. Not exciting. This week it was a beautiful day as we headed up to Christ the Redeemer. It was an interesting journey via Uber (note, don't take Uber to this location but do use it for everywhere else). The driver did too god of a job and got us all the way to the foot of the statue much to the dismay of the workers at the statue. They were stunned we had arrived without the help of one of their vans. Our driver was a great guy who also took us to another vista point. Had we not gotten so delayed he would have taken us home too. Anyway,  we had to head back down the hill to the visitor center and get van passes to return up to the statue. This added a solid hour or so to our day.

But once we got up there it was the exact opposite of my first visit. You could see for miles and had awesome views of the statue and all of Rio. This is one of those places where you could take a 100 photos easy but then you think, what will I do with all of these pictures? So I tried to be a bit selective. It was also the perfect spot to do some filming, a link on that will be coming soon.

When it was time to leave there was no Uber to be had so we eventually figured out a way to get a van that would drive us off the mountain to a more populated area where we could then get an Uber. After that it was time for lunch. Brazil has a ton of small restaurant/cafe type places on street corners where you can get fruit juices, smoothies, sandwiches, burgers etc. I had the Americano, which is a bet of lettuce topped by tomatoes and an open face turkey and cheese sandwich with two fried eggs. It also came with french fries and it was wonderful.

That night was beach volleyball and  I had yet to see it. Midnight start times make it tough with the venue being an hour away from where I'm staying and with so many morning games. But last night was the perfect night for it especially with Brazil taking on the US duo of Kerri Walsh and April Ross. Some people here has suggested that not all the events have felt like the Olympics, a hard feeling to explain. But, this felt like the Olympics. Packed stands, fans going wild, great music, just an overall rocking atmosphere. Also as the days go on I enjoy the Brazilian national anthem more and more. Everyone sings along and it is a lot more catchy than many anthems, the US included.

As always travel is a concern, but after several delays in getting to beach volleyball, it was as smooth as can be getting home and I was back before 3am which is a win.

On to some other updates. I've had pizza twice in the last week, the one pictured is from the mall across the street and it wasn't too bad. It was kind of like Blaze/Pieology/Mod type spot in how fast the pizza was cooked. Pretty thin crust. Also on the snack front, Chips Ahoy type cookies down here are packaged with a cow, or a person wearing a cow costume playing the drums (see photo). Why? I have no idea.

They also have strawberry shake Oreos. Just when you think every Oreo flavor possible has hit the shelves at Target, another country always has other flavors.

Today is a huge day for the USA Women as they meet Hungary in the semifinals. You may have seen Saturday Nite Live's Leslie Jones was in Rio tweeting up a storm. While here she showed her love for USA Water Polo's robes and we were able to get her one. Check out her reaction in the link below.

More to come. I leave you with this ESPN article on the hopes of the Men's water polo coach to get the team among the elite by 2020.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Swimming, Tennis and a Velodrome

Got the chance to check out some other sports besides water polo over the last few days and given the location of the water polo venues it has been relatively easy to do. All in the Olympic park area are the venues (I may leave a few out) for water polo,diving, swimming, gymnastics, handball, basketball, track cycling, tennis and I'm sure something else.

With swimming coming to a close I wanted to make sure I took in a night of that and picked a good night to go as I was able to see US athletes win four medals in about an hour. First Maya DiRado crushed it in the backstroke for gold, then Michael Phelps in his "final" individual race took silver in the 200 fly. That was followed by Katie Ledecky just destroying the competition (see photo) in the 800 free and then in a real change of pace Anthony Ervin winning gold in the 50 free. Ervin's story is a cool one in that he swam at the 2000 Olympics then stepped away from the sport, returned in London and now won gold in Rio. After he won he straddled the lap lane and pumped his fists.

Cool atmosphere and I always like the introductions of the swimmers as they emerged from the tunnel in their various gear. They all seem to wear a TON of clothing (sneakers too) right before they get in. Not sure if it is to stay warm or just to add to the build up of the race. Either way adds another element to the sport.

Yesterday after water polo finish I walked over to the velodrome where track cycling was going on. I don't understand this all that well but the US was in the mix and just missed out on gold falling to Great Britain in the pursuit final. Such aggressive bike riding and yet major team coordination is required.

From there the tennis venue was not far away and we caught part of the women's gold medal final won by Puerto Rico's Monica Puig won gold.

On the water polo front today is the final day of competition for our USA Men as action moves indoors to the swim venue. Water is nice and blue I can report. Women take part in the quarterfinals starting tomorrow so things starting to heat up as we work towards the end of the tournament.

Food update: Revisited Outback last night with the goal of ordering a Boomin Onion Quesadilla, this plan was thwarted as it is only available during happy during the week. Boo!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Green Pools, Today Show Visit & More

Rain has hit Rio which has made things a bit difficult at an outdoor venue. Our weekly show called the Counter Attack was moved to the friendly confines of my hotel room, not the exciting sights and sounds I was hoping to show off. Next week I'm planning to do a better job shooting from a good location in Rio. In news I'm sure you have all heard the diving and water polo pools turned green. After some guesses as to what the actual cause was it seems to have centered around the right ratio of chemicals in the water. Reminded me of our old above ground backyard pool and we had the little plastic water tester with the droplets. I have no memory of what was the correct amount of chemicals in a pool but clearly this isn't it.

Notice the different shades of green
We only have two more games in this venue before we move to the swimming venue which has a roof and no reports of green water so that's a positive. As I'm writing this the water is still not back to it's regular blue color but I'm guessing that is in the works. The venue where the early games are being played was the same one used for the 2007 Pan American Games and if you are unsure about that fact just visit the bathrooms where the sinks still have Rio 2007 logos attached to them.

 Yesterday after the women won their latest game they had a visit from Al Roker and the Today Show to the evening practice at the Flamengo Club. This was a team interview and talk with goalie Ashleigh Johnson that will air sometime next week. Always neat to see how these things come together and Al was nice enough to hangout and take photos with anyone who wanted.

As I may have mentioned before right across the street from our hotel is an Americanized mall with such fine eateries as Outback, Subway, McDonalds and Burger King. I have been to the Outback...the only place in Rio thus far where I have located an unsweetened iced tea and also checked out McDonalds. As readers of the blog know I always check for new items that you can't get domestically. At Outback they had a Bloomin Onion Quesadilla which in my last Outback trip stateside was not available. At McDonalds they have a sort of steak fries/roasted potatoes combo. Ordering at both was a memorable experience due to my complete lack of Portugese. It always devolves into pointing at menus and an epic game of charades and eventually we get on the same page.

Hoping to check out some other events today going on in the Olympic park and will have updates on that in a future blog. For those big into dogs and Instagram, Samson the Doodle has lent support to the USA Water Polo efforts with this photo below that they shared on Instagram. The USA Men are in action today in a must win game against Montenegro so they appreciate Samson's support!

Finally, some sad news with the sudden passing of Blake Krikorian, the brother of Women's Head Coach Adam Krikorian. Definitely keeping the Krikorian family in mind during this difficult time. I encourage you to read this nice feature from Sports Illustrated on the bond between the two brothers, thought it was really well done.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Christ The Redeemer & NBC Visit

Over the last week I got the chance to see some of the sights with Rio on TV shoots and check out some with some co-workers. For starters NBC did two stories with the water polo teams. The first was Alex Flanagan getting in the water with the women's squad to learn the ropes an the second was Top Gear host and NBC correspondent touring Rio with USA captain and native Tony Azevedo. We got the chance to go to a well known acai place, a cool eatery on the beach, and then another beach spot that sold coconuts and some sort of hot cheese stick thing.

It was fun to tour around Rio with someone who knows the way and I'm always down for an acai bowl. For anyone who has been to a Banzai Bowls in SoCal or a Robeks or some other juice/smoothy place, same stuff but I'm told this stuff is better for you here. I got some granola mixed and you get an absolute ton for a small price. For the TV cameras they also showed how it was made. The next stop was on the beach with some great outdoor seating and a tapas menu and the last was just a regular beach.

If you have seen beach vendors in USA selling ice cream or hot dogs, there was a guy just walking along with a small metal oven and cheese. If you flagged him down he would put the cheese on a stick and heat it up in this small oven and sell it to you. Kind of like a Brazilian mozzarella stick. That was paired with a coconut water. The coconut gets fished out of a big barrel and then the seller hacks into with a big knife to get it ready for drinking.

After that a random Sunday off in the schedule allowed for some sightseeing including a trip to Christ the Redeemer aka Corcavado. I had heard this was an interesting place to visit, just getting up to the statue was an adventure. We took an Uber from the beach all the way up to the visitor center. This was a winding drive through a variety of little communities in which our driver got lost a few times. Our Uber driver apologized profusely for getting lost and then apologized for using a few curse words. We assured him all was ok, he reminded us he was a family man and we continued on our journey. We eventually made our way to where we had to be and of course when earlier in the day it was sunny, now all the clouds had rolled in. Still we were there, so might as well check it out. In the visitor center you buy a ticket, equal to about 12 dollars or so to take a van ride up to the statue. Getting out there it had gotten much colder and you are standing in the middle of clouds.

At that point you are just waiting for the clouds to blow away so you can get a clean look at the statue and the amazing views down below. Whenever the clouds would blow and the statue would become clearer everyone would cheer and go into their pre-planned poses. I want to go back on a much clearer day but this was still a sight to see. 

Getting out of there is dicey. Several people have told us to avoid taxis for different reasons so you are left with either an Uber or some other pre-booked ride. But being up so high on a mountain cell service is spotty. Eventually an Uber arrived and we made our way down to the mountain and back to the beach area. Right as we arrived we stumbled upon another Olympic event, a cycling road race. All in all it made for a pretty cool day in Rio.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Opening Ceremony & More

2016 marked my third Olympic Games opening ceremony and they have all been unique and interesting in their own way. Beijing in 2008 remains the highlight probably because it was the first time and because it was just ridiculous. To recap, a guy ran along the top of the arena (with a harness) to light the flame. Rio's was pretty special as well as it was held at Maracana, a massive stadium that is best known for soccer. Wikipedia says that back in the day nearly 200,000 people attended an event there and I can somewhat believe it, the place is just a monster. A big oval stadium with a partial roof with an opening over the field of play. The seats gradually slope so there isn't really any steep vantage points.

Getting in and getting out is the major question of any opening ceremony for me, and will a local well known celebrity show up? England - Paul McCartney (Yes), Brazil - Pele (No). We know seeing the teams announced will be cool and there will always be some surprise that is awesome but more importantly the transportation. Why can this be difficult? Well it's a very special, very large event that no place really gets a chance to get used to hosting. Even a Final Four or Super Bowl tends to rotate around to the same cities but not as much with the ceremony. All that said it wasn't that bad, we took a media bus from the press center on about an hour ride to the stadium. We got right in front of the stadium and then spent another 20 minutes trying to find exactly where the bus should park (this has been common during the Olympics) before we were finally deposited near an entrance. We waited in a long but not brutal line and then we were in, a solid 90 minutes before anything was starting. This may seem annoying but I don't mind it. Everyone is so hyped to be there and I'd rather not have to deal with crazy lines and be late.

Before we get to the show which was great, the only downer was food. At a massive event like this you would think there be food for miles, and tons of it. Not the case. I was thrilled to wake up the next morning after eating the most questionable cheeseburger I've ever had. Also as for event details, it has bee a few days so apologies if some of this is out of order.

As for the show, it was a cost effective one and didn't have all the bells and whistles of previous ones but nothing wrong with that, still cool. The bulk of what is the soccer field was covered with a mat, used to project light shows and other videos, think of a suped up version of what many NBA teams do now for their starting lineups. After some hype people, including some random folks in gold chains and what seemed to be a small child, got us warmed up, they started the show. In addition to some speeches, they did some history of Brazil, how the country came to be which I only understood as a man next to me explained it all.

Didn't get it at first but there was a whole segment on the history of flight and apparently Brazil believes they were first in flight, take that Wright brothers! Something to do with the North Carolina plane being pushed for a take off and the Brazilian flight being self propelled to flight. To my recollection there is zero mention of this in history books. May need to edit those license plates North Carolina to "First In Flight*"

After the history lesson there was some fantastic acoustic music as Giselle Bundchen made her way out of the tunnel. What did she do? She did what models do and went on an epic runway walk across the field. In one end of the stadium there were these stacked boxes that led to some parcore sessions among all the performers.

At some point we got into a bunch of dancing which was no surprise. Brazil is known for throwing a great party and that happened here as well. Lots of music and dancing and everyone just having a great time. We also had the Brazilian National Anthem at some point which was great as the crowd sung along. Anytime the anthem has been played in Rio it is a cool moment as everyone goes nuts.

Eventually the countries arrived, the guy from Tonga stole the show and looked like something straight off Monday Night Raw and WWF. If you haven't seen him, just give a google. Sadly, there were no other pro wrestlers to my knowledge. I hope in the future every country sends their Olympians and their best professional wrestler. That person should walk next to the flag bearer as their hype person trying to fire up their country and protect the flag bearer from all the other wrestlers.

Anyway,  Brazil got a big reaction from the crowd as did Team USA's massive contingent. Once all the nations arrived we had a few more speeches and then that led to the flame being lit. Some Brazilian Olympic greats helped raise the Olympic flag and then other well known athletes brought out the flame in a relay of sorts which led to it being lit on top of the parque metal boxes. It was then placed inside a large item looked like the perfect topper to a massive Christmas Tree and that led to a giant fireworks show.

Overall a great shot...always a fun event to check out and hopefully I can be there in Tokyo.

After it was complete it was a mad dash to the media buses outside and in what felt like pure luck we piled on to a bus and it immediately left. Of course it didn't know exactly where to stop once we got back to the Olympic park but no matter, we made it home.

More to come!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

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