My grandmother was a die-hard fan of the Olympics. I know everyone becomes obsessed with the Olympics every four years when they came back around, but she always went the extra mile. She had a schedule of when all the events happened so she could watch all her favorites. She knew the backstory of seemingly every athlete. She even always had the official Olympic pins sent to her in the mail. She really loved the Olympics. Her passion for the Games spilled over onto me at an early age. It helped spark my love of sports and, eventually, my love of sports journalism.
For someone in this field, covering the Olympics is the ultimate dream. Over the past month, I was able to fulfill that dream. Here are 41 tidbits from that experience, one for every hour spent trekking back to Nashville from Rio.
1. I embarked on this journey with 14 other students and one professor from the University of Memphis journalism department. I’ll go ahead and give them a quick intro since without them I would probably still be stuck in Rio somewhere:
- Nathan (America’s foremost canoe slalom expert)
- Jon (Don’t ask him about his name, but do ask him about his hat)
- Chip (If Miroslav Raduljica and Yo Gotti had a son)
- Omer (He’s always got four aces up his sleeve)
- Rebecca (Zhang Jike’s number one fan)
- Avery (The Queen of 4 a.m. bus rides)
- Jonathan (Captured Rio one difficult angle at a time)
- Janika (“I can’t see them up there”)
- Sydney (Far too nice to be hanging around us)
- Shauna (Has a weakness for Irish rowers)
- Anna Joy (Like the journalist version of Aly Raisman’s parents)
- Catrell (Usain Bolt’s personal assistant)
- Cody (King of Tinder)
- Dr. C (French sports ambassador, we couldn’t have had this trip without her)
2. No, I did not get Zika. I saw maybe six or seven mosquitoes the entire time I was there.
3. No, I did not get robbed. And we even travelled through a favela, if briefly. I guess declining that invite to hang out with Ryan Lochte paid off.
4. Rio is a breathtakingly beautiful city. Mountains and oceans side by side. Christ the Redeemer. The view from Sugarloaf. Copacabana/Impanema/Leblon Beaches. Lagoa. It’s hard to beat the scenery.
5. Speaking of Christ the Redeemer, if you find yourself in Rio attempting to go see the statue, don’t take a cab. If you do take a cab, don’t be surprised if it takes you to the top of the wrong mountain or circles around Copacabana beach for hours.
6. The dissonance between the rich and poor areas of Rio is striking. It has to be one of the most notably massive wealth gaps in the world for a single city.
7. It was surreal to see military police posted up on every other street corner with assault rifles. It felt like being in a dystopian sci-fi movie.
8. Brazilians love cheering. They cheered at every sporting event, even ones where the athletes were not used to wild cheering like table tennis, like it was the World Series. And if a Brazilian was competing, everyone lost their minds.
9. For someone traveling internationally for the first time, living in an Olympic host city was jarring. I need to make another overseas trip to somewhere else, or even back to Rio at a calmer time.
10. Brazilians also love selfies. Middle school girls have nothing on fully-grown Brazilian men.
11. Every Portuguese conversation I had:
*Native Brazilian speaks fluent Portuguese.*
Brazilian: De Nada.
12. No matter the significance, or lack thereof, of the event that has just been won, watching the American flag being raised with the American national anthem playing in the background is always a goosebumps-inducing moment.
13. There are no left turns in Rio. There are only U-Turns. There are also no direct routes anywhere. I’m not sure if this applies to the rest of the country.
14. Chinese table tennis journalists do not mess around.
(This guy is the LeBron James of China. His name is Ma Long, and he plays table tennis.
15. Brazilian bus drivers are constantly auditioning for a Fast and Furious stunt driver role.
16. Quick Olympic athlete power rankings detour:
1. Michael Phelps/Usain Bolt/Simone Biles/Kohei Uchimura/Katie Ledecky
6. Everyone Else
17. Usain Bolt is not human. Watching him accelerate away from the other fastest men in the world will never not be confounding.
18. In a similar vein, the gap between Simone Biles and her competition, as well as the USA women’s gymnastics team as whole, is unbelievable.
19. Michael Phelps coming back to dominate his fifth Olympics is even too much for a Disney movie.
20. “You come at the king, you best not miss.” I hope Kohei comes back for one more Olympics in home country.
21. Katie Ledecky’s name got turned into a verb among our group. As in “you just got Ledecky’d” if you were dominating or embarrassed. That’s real queen stuff right there.
22. There is no reason team handball shouldn’t be huge in America. It combines aspects of all the sports we obsess over.
23. This is stolen straight from my Twitter, but Fiji’s rugby sevens team could be a top-25 college football team. Easy.
24. Seeing NBA stars become screaming fanboys for semi-obscure sports will always make me smile.
25. The USA women are absolute superheroes across all sports.
26. Sabre is the only interesting version of fencing.
27. There is no interesting version of equestrian.
28. Hot take: any sport where the Olympics are not the main international competition should be banned. (Looking at you men’s soccer)
29. Welsh and Scottish accents are almost an entirely different language than English.
30. Brazil winning the men’s football tournament was a joy to see, and Neymar being the one to score the title-clinching penalty made for quite a moment, but this doesn’t even marginally make up for the last time Brazil played Germany at the Maracanã.
31. By the way, the Maracanã lived up to every expectation I had going in. It was stunning.
32. Olympic pins are like currency inside of the venues. There are even black markets dedicated to trading and selling them. I had to trade in the rights to my first-born son to get pins for all of my friends.
33. Shoutout to translators. You saved me and all the other reporters countless times. Anyone who can speak multiple languages is extremely impressive.
34. As for some actual journalism tidbits, conducting an interview in another language, through a translator of course, was a definite learning experience.
35. The ONS (Olympic News Service) style guide took some getting used to between the preference to British English and the careful consideration of sensitive political situations (ex: referring to North Korea as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea)
(This is a Japanese photographer at the end of a four hour team table tennis match)
36. Foreign journalists are not afraid to cheer in the press area. I quickly learned that is mostly an American thing. I saw two German reporters give a standing ovation during the middle of a table tennis match.
37. Even if it seems like an antiquated process with the advent of social media, handing business cards actually works.
38. While on the subject of getting in touch with people, Brazilians don’t ask for your phone number, or if you have Facebook, or if you’re on Snapchat. They ask if you have WhatsApp. That is the main form of communication there.
39. And while Futebol is the national sport, beach volleyball (at least in Rio), is pretty close in popularity.
40. I would briefly like to think my family, friends, co-workers, and mentors who are the only reason this was even possible. Special shoutout to my parents and sister, y’all put up with a lot to make this happen.
(Pretend this is me blowing you all a kiss instead of my main Olympic crush, Russian gymnast Aliya Mustafina)
41. Overall, it was an exhausting, stressful, and endlessly rewarding experience. I’m already learning Japanese for Tokyo 2020.