Sunday, October 4, 2009

É a vez do Rio!

Breaking news isn't exactly my forte, so I'm assuming everybody who's reading this already knows that Rio de Janeiro beat out Chicago, Tokyo, and Madrid to be the host city for the 2016 Olympic Games. You might also have seen pictures of the tens of thousands of Cariocas dressed in yellow and green, cheering on their city on Copacabana beach last Friday. Well guess what? I live on Copacabana beach, and I was there rooting for Rio along with them.

I'm not sure I knew that Rio was in the running for the 2016 games before I came to Brazil, but the news was hard to miss once I got here. "Eu quero!" signs were all over the city, and on the morning of the decision, several planes flew above the beach, trailing banners which read, "Vamos Torcer! É a vez do Rio!"

The planes urging people to cheer because it was finally Rio's turn weren't the only signs that something big was happening that morning. As I walked down Copacabana, several helicopters -- though no uncommon sight in Rio -- hovered overhead. It seemed like everyone was taking advantage of the excitement, including the guy walking around the beachside bar with a sign that read "Olympics 2016 Rice beans beef with french fries." That's probably the most common meal that exists in Rio, but on Friday it was something special. 

Long balloons in yellow, green, blue, and white were being handed out by the dozen, and I snagged a few to play with while I waited. This little boy had the same idea:

There was a live concert in front of the Copacabana Palace hotel, and I stood in the crowd as the Brazilians danced and sang along. When the first news came, no one was expecting it, and a collective gasp quickly turned into cheers. The two big TV screens read "Chicago has just been eliminated." The music continued, and I waved my balloons with the screaming crowd. Just a few minutes later the next message came: "Tokyo has also just been eliminated." The woman next to me turned in excitement. "Eliminated! They've been eliminated!" she yelled to me, as if she couldn't quite believe it and wanted to confirm that I had seen the same news.

Though the news about Chicago left the next hour or so slightly anti-climatic, the Brazilians in the crowd weren't losing any of their energy. I moved farther into the crowd, trying to find my friends, and found myself centered in front of the stage, packed in too tight to move any farther. But don't worry, I made some new friends.

When the IOC chairman flipped over the card and read out "Rio de Janeiro," I neither saw it nor heard it. But suddenly the screaming was several times as loud and a blizzard of shiny pieces of confetti -- that I was still pulling off of me that night -- fell from the sky. I felt myself being lifted by one of the Brazilians next to me as I tried to capture the moment on film.

That was the best I got. It was chaos. A woman next to me asked me if I won. I figured the best answer was that I had, and she told me that she had too, and then gave me a big hug. I told her congratulations. Another guy found out I was American and asked me how long I would be here for. I'll be staying until December, I said, and he replied, "Well then, you must have my flag." He handed me the Brazilian flag he had been waving; it's now hanging on my wall. I told him congratulations as well.

Judging by how the Brazilians have welcomed me to their country, I know they'll be good hosts for the rest of the world. There are certainly huge problems in this city -- poverty, homelessness, transportation, crime -- that need to be remedied before then, and I don't think they'll find the most perfect and efficient solutions for them, but somehow they'll pull it together. Somehow things just work out in Brazil.

Even so, it will be no easy task. But when I saw the pictures of President Lula crying in Copenhagen, I remembered why I had supported Rio all along. Even though Chicago is his hometown, I can't see Obama reacting with the same outburst of emotion had Chicago been picked instead. The pure pride and joy that Lula and most Brazilians felt upon hearing the news is reason enough to have chosen Rio, and to bring the Olympics to South America for the first time. It really does mean a lot.

The crowd sings "Sou Carioca" (I'm Carioca) not long after the news was announced

P.S. Check out more photos from Friday here.

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