Rieder de Janeiro: The Two-Day Olympic-Sized Dry Run

Photo Courtesy: Swimming World

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By David Rieder

It’s been less than 36 hours since Brent Rutemiller and I landed in Rio, but we’ve already had the roundabout walking tour of Barra Olympic Park, our first look at the not-air-conditioned Olympic Aquatic Center, a thorough introduction to the Main Press Center (MPC) and three roundabout taxi rides while trying to figure out what venues are right in front of us and handle with the very-real language barrier.

Without even attending a single session of actual athletic competition yet, this fact is already abundantly clear: the Olympics are big.

Barra Olympic Park houses many of the Games’ marquee sports, including gymnastics, basketball, tennis, handball and all aquatic sports except open water. Not track and field—that’s at Olympic Stadium, which we’ve passed on the highway headed to Barra—or the Opening and Closing Cermonies—which take place at Estádio do Maracaña, much closer to downtown.

Rio’s famed Copacabana beach will host the open water swimming during the second week of the Games as well as beach volleyball competition in a temporary stadium. Brent and I got a great introduction to Copacabana Thursday—if only by accident.

Copa

Photo Courtesy: David Rieder

A media bus runs straight from downtown—a five-minute walk from where we’re staying—to Barra and the MPC, from where there is easy access to all the venues on site. The buses leave every 30 or 60 minutes, depending on the time of day, but Brent and I didn’t know that when we made our first trip to Barra.

And so we ended up in a taxi. The driver did not speak English, and he took the scenic route along the coast. After a few wrong turns and almost 90 minutes in the car, we were where we needed to be.

Note that at this point it was completely dark outside. Sunset is around 5:30 p.m., or about three hours earlier than I’ve become accustomed to during the summer. The weather may not be very cold here—it was in the 80s today, and both Brent and I wore shorts—but it’s still winter, nonetheless.

Next was security. As you might imagine at an Olympic Games, it’s a big deal. While the lines do not reach TSA-length, there’s still some waiting, some removing items from pockets to put items through the X-ray machine and the standard medal detector.

After spending 10 hours on a plane and traveling more than 4000 miles from home, it’s rare to casually run into familiar faces. But this is the Olympic Games. Within a half hour of arriving at the Olympic Park, I ran across two reporters I met at Trials (ESPN’s Wayne Drehs and the Associated Press’ Beth Harris). Brent came all the way from Phoenix to run into Jeff Metcalf from the Arizona Republic.

A trip to the Olympic Aquatic Center? That would have to wait until today. After making that trek, we passed the media entrance, and the pool was nearly empty—so we walked out on deck. Yes, I took pictures.

Pool

Photo Courtesy: David Rieder

We checked out the mixed zone and the upstairs seating, and then said hi to NBC announcers Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines. Then we found some Olympic rings. Yes, this is very cliché, but so what? It’s the Olympics!

Rings

Photo Courtesy: David Rieder

Tomorrow morning, the real fun begins with preliminary action in the men’s 400 IM, women’s 100 fly, men’s 400 free, women’s 400 IM, men’s 100 breast and women’s 400 free relay, beginning at 1 p.m. local time—in other words, a few hours before sunset.

When Brent decided what day we would arrive, the hope was that we would figure out anything we’d need to know before we needed to know. So what did we learn?

First, the cellphone service. International plans don’t come cheap, and we’re dependent on wifi to stay connected to the buzz of the sport when we’re away from the computer screen. Thankfully, the media buses have wifi. Speaking of which…

The buses are awesome. Unlike most taxi drivers, the bus drivers know the routes—or at least the one route we take—and get you where you need to go quick. It’s not quite U.S. Olympic Trials, where we walked five minutes from the hotel to the pool, but it’s efficient.

And then there are the tickets for swimming. Yes, the media need tickets for swimming finals. Limited media seating means that credentials don’t necessarily guarantee access to venues. In addition to the eight nights of swimming finals, other ticketed events include the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, beach volleyball semifinals and finals, selected men’s basketball games and the women’s team and all-around finals in gymnastics.

But thankfully, both Brent and I have tickets in hand for the first two nights of swimming—and are optimistic that collecting them for the other six nights won’t be an issue.

So yes, we’ve been busy. But let’s be honest: this is awesome. The Olympic Games are unlike any other event in the world and certainly unlike any other swim meet I’ve covered. We haven’t seen any athletes yet, but there are media from all over the world, speaking every language imaginable, crowding the massive MPC.

And then tomorrow morning begins the swim meet, with plenty of the same athletes I’ve had the privilege of getting to know over the past several years, both American and foreign. Some things will be different—there will no video interviews in the mixed zone, for one, but I can live with more time spent writing stories instead.

I get to watch the best swimmers in the world compete in the biggest meet of their lives and then write about it. Yeah, I think I might enjoy this.

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Author: David Rieder

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David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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