toros-tokyo-number_5
The competitor number for Andras Toro and his C-1 1000-meter competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

When 1964 Tokyo Olympian, Andras Toro, rummaged through his decades of Olympian memorabilia with me last month, he uncovered his number. At his last Olympics representing his native Hungary as a canoeist, Toro wore the number 79, blue font on white material.

What caught my eye was that on the back of the material were the unmistakable pads of velcro. The reason it drew my attention is that I had always been bothered by the way athletes, particularly track and field athletes, have their numbers or names attached to their jerseys. They are sporting sleek, high performance jerseys, and yet their names or numbers are commonly printed on paper, and quite sloppily attached by safety pins. It’s not a big issue. It just doesn’t look cool.

alison-felix-and-name-card-fasteners

There has to be a better way.

At every Olympics, organizers are always looking for better ways to do things. Perhaps someone deep down in one of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics planning teams thought that velcro was a better way to help identify athletes.

Velcro was developed in 1941 by a Swiss electrical engineer named George de Mestral. The iconic story is that on a walk with his dog in the woods, he came home with burrs stuck to his pants, which made him wonder. When he looked at the burrs closely, he noticed that the burrs had tiny hook-like tendrils, which somehow caught themselves in the tiny openings of his pants material. Out of that insight, de Mestral patented the fasterner idea called velcro, which is a combination of the French words “velours” (velvet) and “crochet” (hook).

Velcro was seen as a light, flexible, non-metallic way to attach or seal things. In 1968, NASA used velcro in their space suits, sample collection bags and on their lunar vehicles, increasing its geeky cool cred.

So attaching name and number plates to uniforms with velcro makes sense, initially. Why are we not using that space-age technology today? My guess is that using velcro is a bit of an operational pain because it requires two to tango – you need to place the “vel” on one thing and the “cro” on another. Toro’s number plate had the “vel”. I can’t imagine the organizers at Lake Sagami requiring all canoeists to wear a special jersey that had the hook pads…but I suppose they did.

And so, the old-school pin fasteners…now they’re beginning to make sense.

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Lisa Carrington at the 2012 Games
Lisa Carrington

The kayak was originally developed by Inuits, native to the northern Artic regions. Piecing together wood, bone and animal skins, the Inuit developed over centuries a vessel that was both quiet and swift, allowing Inuit hunters to stealthily come upon their prey.

Today, the kayak is made from modern materials like fiberglass, and the K-1 200-meter race has become, on water, the equivalent of the 100-meter sprint, on land.

Come the Rio Olympics, the heavy favorites for the K-1 200-meter men’s and women’s competitions are Mark de Jonge of Canada, and Lisa Carrington of New Zealand. They are both the current world record holders in this event.

Carrington has simply forgotten what it is like to lose, as she has been unbeaten for the past five years in this race, wining her fourth consecutive world title in the K1 200 meters last year in Italy. She is also the reigning Olympic champion, having won gold in the 200 meters at the London Olympic Games. Seeking gold in the 500-meters, Carrington could go on to become one of New Zealand’s most decorated Olympians in history.

Below at the 8:50 mark, you can see Carrington take gold at the 2012 London Games:

While De Jonge finished with a bronze medal in the 200 meters at the 2012 London Games, he is the World Champion for the past two years, the first man to do so in well over a decade. Below is video of de Jonge in speedy form:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YrZe-h-t8c

Russians banned not banned
Source: ABC News Australia

Who’s in? Who’s out? The very political decision making process for which Russian athletes are considered eligible for the Rio Olympics or not has changed yet again.

As most of the sporting world is aware, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) issued a report recommending that the entire team from Russia be banned from the upcoming Rio Olympics. The International Olympic Committee, which originally had the final thumbs-up, thumbs-down accountability on who gets to participate in the Olympics, decided to defer judgment on Russian eligibility to the international sports federations.

IOC and Russian flagsThis created chaos as, frankly, with less than two weeks to go, the various federations, some supremely under-resourced, have to make a well-researched decision on who to ban or not to ban. Many have criticized that decision. And as can be expected, decisions on Russians allowed to compete are inconsistent.

In this great summary by ABC News of Australia (as of July 27), the IAAF has banned all track and field athletes, as has the International Wrestling Federation. The World Rowing Federation has approved 6 for participation, but banned 19. The governing body for badminton (BWF), the International Judo Federation and the governing world body for volleyball, FIVB, have essentially cleared all of their eligible Russian players to compete.

As of this writing, the current estimates for Russian competitors at the Rio Olympics is more than 200, according to the Daily Mail.

However, on July 30, the IOC, likely buckling to criticism, decided to set up a three-member panel that will ultimately decide on Olympic eligibility, based on recommendations from the federations. The IOC spokesperson said that the process would be completed by August 5, which also happens to be the day of the Olympics opening ceremonies.

One person of note who will not be competing – Yuliya Stepanova. The athlete who risked her career, and perhaps even her life to help blow the whistle on the Russian state-sponsored doping and cover-up operations by talking with journalists and WADA was ironically banned.

Rusanova of Russia competes during the woman's 800 metres semi-final heat 1 at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu
Yuliya Stepanova

The IAAF, which has been hawkish in banning Russians from international competition, recognized the bravery and impact of Stepanova by approved her competition in the Rio Olympics as a “neutral athlete”. Despite that, the IOC decided to ban Stepanova from competing for her failed drug tests in the past, while conveniently dropping its accountability, casting a blind eye in all the other cases by allowing a third party to determine Olympic eligibility.

By the way, the honorary president of the International Judo Federation is Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

Simmons Kelly Kurtz Laurie Rampling
Left to right, clockwise: Jean Simmons, Grace Kelly, Swoosie Kurtz, Charlotte Rampling, Hugh Laurie

These are famous actors and actresses of the silver and small screen. What do they all have in common?

  • Jean Simmons: scouted in 1945 in London, presumably after World War II, Simmons moved to Hollywood and began an acting career that made her one of the most famous faces in the world, starring in such films as The Actress, Guys and Dolls, The Big Country, and Spartacus.
  • Grace Kelly: an acting icon, Kelly became America’s modern-day princess when she famously married Prince Ranier of Monaco, after starring in such films as High Noon, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief and High Society.
  • Swoosie Kurtz: Emmy Award winner and two-time Tony Award winner from Omaha, Nebraska, who is better known on American television programs Carol and Company, Sisters, and Mike and Molly.
  • Hugh Laurie, an Oxford, England native who rose to fame as a comedy duo called Fry and Laurie, with Stephen Fry, and became a household name in America in the hit drama series, House, M.D.
  • Charlotte Rampling, British siren who starred in such films as Georgy Girl, The Damned, The Night Porter, Stardust Memories and The Verdict. She was recently in the news for her controversial comments regarding Blacks and acting.

The answer is….their fathers were all successful Olympians!

Charles Simmons: was part of the British bronze-medal winning gymnastics team in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm Sweden, and father of femme fatale, Jean Simmons.

John Kelly: 3-time gold medalist, two at the 1920 Antwerp Games in single scull and double sculls (rowing), and a gold in double sculls at the 1924 Paris Games, who was father of Princess Grace.

John B Kelly Sr
John B. Kelly

Frank Kurtz: a bronze medalist in the 1932 Los Angeles Games in the 10-meter platform dive, Kurtz was the father of Swoosie.

Frank Kurtz
Frank Kurtz and daughter, Swoosie

Ran Laurie: Like John Kelly, Ran Laurie was a rower who took gold in the coxless pairs at the 1948 London Games, whose partner on that gold-medal winning team was Jack Wilson. As mentioned above, Hugh Laurie starred in hit series, House, and coincidentally,

Flying Dutchmen medal podium 1964
The medalists in the Flying Dutchman class yachting event on the podium at the Olympic Games, Enoshima, Japan, 21st October 1964. The gold medalists are Earle Wells (front) and Helmer Pedersen (1930 – 1987), of New Zealand. The silver medalists are Keith Musto (front) and Tony Morgan of Great Britain. The silver medallists are Buddy Melges (far right) and William Bentsen (obscured), of the USA.

Buddy Melges and Bill Bentsen had completed their first two of the seven races in Enoshima. It was the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and the pair from Wisconsin were doing so-so in the Flying Dutchman-class sailing competition: they finished tenth in the first race, but second in the second race. The third race, however, was a disaster.

“We were leading the (third) race,” Melges told me over the phone. “So we put up the spinnaker (the sail), which we should not have done. Our rudder broke, and our mast jumped out of the socket.” Dead in the water, they waited to be rescued. A large ship, part of the Japan Self Defense Forces, which were playing various roles in the Tokyo Olympics, approached Melges and Bentsen’s boat, named Widgeon. But the Japanese barge was coming on hard.

“This big profile was blowing down on us pretty fast! The captain saw our huge eyeballs and us waving our hands. He threw his vehicle in reverse, but he just missed crushing us. He almost sunk us!”

Self Defense Force at Enoshima
From the book, The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964

Having just averted disaster, the barge brought the men and the boat back to shore. The Flying Dutchmen competition was held over seven days during the Tokyo Games. There was a four-day break between the fourth and fifth races, but unfortunately for Melges and Bentsen, there was no break between the third and fourth races.

“When we got back to shore, we got the Japanese boat repairers on it,” Melges said. “They were busier than hell all night long. We had to jump in and lend a hand because we thought there was no way they were going to get our boat out on time.” Additionally, the Americans needed a little help from the Canadians. The Widgeon’s rudder was made of plywood, so it simply wasn’t strong enough. In the spirit of sportsmanship, Paul Henderson of the Canadian Flying Dutchman team, shared a solid mahogany rudder with his competitor south of the border.

Melges and Bentsen went to bed at 6am on the morning of October 15, and woke up a few hours later to one of the few fine days during the Tokyo Olympics. With the wind blowing North Northeast at a wind speed of 10 m/s, Melges and Bentsen took to the water and shot out to a second place finish.

While the Widgeon finished tenth of the 21 boats in the first race, and was DQ’ed in the third race, they finished second in the second, fourth and fifth races, before dropping to third in the sixth race. In these sailing competitions, points are heavily weighted to top three finishes, so Melges and Bentsen were in strong contention for gold before starting the seventh and final race.

“We were in nice shape going into the last race,” Melges said. “We had expectations of a gold medal. We were a minute away from an imaginary line, the finish line, and we were in a perfect position as the wind was favoring us on the left side of the course. But there was this Star boat, tuning up before its race. He shouldn’t have been there, and he was right in our wind. He was blanketing our wind.”

The Widgeon lost its wind and Melges said that his boat almost sank, so close to golden glory. They ended up in tenth in the final race, giving them enough points to take third place.

“Even to this day, I tell people I didn’t do well,” said Melges. “But my rudder won bronze.”

Canadian Flying Dutchman Team 1964
Canadian athletes compete in the Team’s Flying Dutchman during the Tokyo Olympic on October 15, 1964 in Fujisawa, Kanagawa, Japan.
Aleks Duric father and brother
Aleks (left), when he was 9 years old with his dad and older brother Milan at a restaurant where his dad always visited. (Photo © Aleksandar Duric)

Before he was junior kayaking champion of Yugoslavia, before he was an Olympian for the first Bosnian-Herzegovinian team at the Barcelona Games in 1992, before he would go on to a long and successful soccer career, Aleksandar Duric was his father’s son.

And being the son of Mladjen Duric was a challenge.

As Duric wrote in his fascinating book, Beyond Borders, his father was a “rugged, simple man, with little education”, whose mother abandoned him and whose father was killed in World War II. He was also an alcoholic and abusive to his wife and children. “When he was sober my father was a good man, not the sensitive or talkative type, but honest and unselfish – he would give you his own blood if you needed it. But drinking changed him; it turned him into an animal.”

beyond borders cover duricThe kayaker from Doboj, Bosnia recalled when his father got so drunk, he crashed and destroyed his car, in which so much hard-earned money was invested.

Our relationships was at breaking point at that stage. I was sick of him bringing shame to our family, sick of how he treated us all. I shouted at him, “You’re completely wasted. You’re a disgrace!”

“How dare you speak to me like that? I’m your father!”

It escalated from there. We had a blazing argument and my mother stepped in to try to calm things down. That made him angrier. He made a wild move to grab my mother and hit her. I got in between them, grabbed a kitchen knife from the counter and pointed it at him, saying, “If you ever touch her or Milan again, I’ll kill you. I swear to god, I’ll cut you into pieces.” The scary thing is, I meant it.

A few years later, Duric served as an officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army, just as the diverse and increasingly hostile parts of the Bosnian region of Yugoslavia – Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks – began to splinter. One time, Duric’s commanding officer sent him and his team on a convoy mission to protect trucks transporting weapons and ammunition into areas at the heart of the Bosnian conflict. Duric, who was personally wrestling with the suspect reasons why the Yugoslav’s People’s Army was fighting the battles it was, reluctantly took his team on the tense trip through hostile territory. When he and his team completed the mission successfully, he was asked again to take his team on another mission. Duric pushed back saying that he and his team were promised they would be able to return to their base and safety if they had completed the one mission.

As related in this book, after being called a coward, and slapped around, Duric was thrown into jail for insubordination, threatened with imprisonment for years. As Duric was being moved to his jail cell, he saw an officer he was friends with and shouted to him to tell his father that he was in military jail. And despite all that he and his father had been through, he knew his father would help. “My father was not an affectionate man and he had plenty of personal demons, but he was not going to let his youngest son rot in some cell in Vukovar.”

In the end, his father shouted, berated and threatened the right people and got his son released. “To this day I don’t know what went on behind the scenes after this. Favours must have been called in, more threats must have been made. But whatever happened, all I know is that he very next day I was escorted out of the cell, handed a couple of sets of keys to some waiting Landrovers with my men already sitting inside them, and told in no uncertain terms to get me out of their sight immediately.

Aleks Duric and kayaking team
Winter in Doboj with the kayaking team. 15-year-old Aleks is second from left, squatting. (Picture © Aleksandar Duric)

Since that time, Duric left Bosnia and laid low in Szegred, Hungary, with little money and little prospects for the future. As explained in the previous post, Duric went on to compete in the Barcelona Olympics, and a 20-year career in professional soccer in Australia, China and Singapore. He did not return to Doboj to see his family again, even when his mother was killed by a Bosnian shell that hit her home in 1993.

But in 2000, Duric received word from his brother that his father was dying. Duric made the trip from Singapore to Doboj, and spent the final days with his father, telling him about his days at the Olympics and his successes on the soccer pitch. And his father, after

Szeged to Barcelona

The weeks leading up to an Olympic Games can be exhilarating – for many, a once-in-a-lifetime period of gleeful privilege: receiving your kit, which contains your team outfit, training wear, and uniform for competition, being feted in pre-departure parties, meeting dignitaries and celebrities, and having all travel and lodging logistics taken care of for you.

Alexsandar Duric, also had a once-in-a-lifetime experience leading up to his trip to the Olympic Games. But his was not one of glee and delight. As detailed in part 1, Duric was asked to represent newly established nation, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the midst of an internecine war. He made the difficult decision to go. Now he had to figure out how to get there.

Duric, who was not a person of means, had a small backpack, a kayak paddle that a good friend gifted to him, and $20 in his pocket. Now he had to travel some 2,000 miles from his base in Szeged, Hungary to Barcelona. He fortunately did not have to make it all the way to Spain. He just needed to get to Ljubljana, Slovenia where he would join his nine other teammates on the Bosnian team, and from there get on a plane to Barcelona.

Duric stuck his thumb out and a man driving an empty mini-bus stopped to pick him up. The driver said that he could take him to the Austrian border, but not through it. The driver was Serbian, who had a hard time believing that he was sitting next to a fellow Serb going to Barcelona to represent Bosnia in the Olympics. “He didn’t like that, and he asked why I was going to the Olympics for ‘them’. It was an awkward conversation, but he was a nice man who drove me to the border.”

Duric made it to the Austrian border, and explained to the officials in Austria that he had a legitimate reason to enter Austria. “Why would an Olympian in this day and age be hitchhiking across Europe instead of being jetted and pampered as befitting his status” was what the officials were wondering. Even when Duric showed his invitation letter from the Austrian Olympic Committee, which was managing the process for the Bosnian Olympic squad, the Austrian authorities were skeptical, until they called the number on the document and confirmed that this unlikely straggler was, in actuality, an Olympic kayaker.

Duric told me that at that time, the Austrian-Hungarian border was closely monitored as many people were trying to leave the countries in the Soviet bloc. In fact, the friendly Hungarian border officials had told Duric the Austrians would probably send him back to Hungary, as they did routinely to all of the people trying to escape to Austria. When Duric watched reports of Syrian refugees struggling to find freedom from war and famine, he remembered his time at the border. “I was there in the 1990s. I saw so many families with small kids trying to find a better place. People talk bad about refugees, but I wish I could open my house to them. I know how they feel.”

The Austrian border officials eventually made contact with someone in the Austrian Olympic Committee verifying that Alexsandar Duric was indeed a member of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Olympic Team, and needed passage through Austria to get to Slovenia. “I clearly remember,” he told me. “At first, they didn’t believe me. I couldn’t explain it. They were asking me ‘where’s your car?’ ‘Where are you going?’ I only had this piece of paper from Olympic Committee of Austria. Eventually, they were all smiles, asking me where my car was, or if I had my first-class air tickets. They slapped me on the back and wished me luck.”

The officials also asked someone who was headed to Slovenia to take Duric, and even phoned ahead to their colleagues at the Austria-Slovenian border to let Duric through quickly. United with the other members of the Bosnian team, Duric spend a few days in Ljubljaana before getting on a plane to Barcelona, finally no longer having to figure out the logistics.

Bosnia Herzogivna team
The first ever Bosnia-Herzegovina Team in 1992.

And suddenly, he was an Olympian, in Barcelona, at the 1992 Summer Games. “I grew up in Doboj, and then, I thought Belgrade was like New York. When I arrived in Barcelona, I thought, ‘Am I in this world, or another planet?’ All the lights. The beaches. I was in a magic world.”

“Stepping into the village was amazing. I couldn’t believe my eyes who was walking by me in the huge restaurants. I was there for hours staring at people. I saw the Dream Team the first day before they moved out of the Village I saw Michael Jordan. Carl Lewis came up to

beyond borders cover duric

He was Yugoslavian. More specifically, he was a Serbian born and raised in Doboj, a town in the province of Bosnia-Herzegovina. More intriguingly, he was a powerful kayaker, junior champion of Yugoslavia at the age of 15, and one of the top ten kayakers in the world at the age of 17. Aleksandar Duric had a very viable dream of going to the Barcelona Olympics, but his country was crumbling.

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Yugoslavia was a diverse federation of republics and provinces, primarily held together by the former president, Josip Tito. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the USSR’s influence waned, Yugoslavia’s political world began to spin apart. In 1989, Serbia declared independence. Soon after, Croatia did the same. Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was a highly diverse province of Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks, became an independent sovereign nation in March, 1992, and fell into years of a cruel and bloody civil war.

Duric was an eyewitness to Yugoslavia’s disintegration as a teenage officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army, following orders while trying to understand why Serbs, Croats and Muslims who had lived peacefully were now at each other’s throats. He was ethnic Serbian in an army that was dominated by Serbs, in a region that held a Muslim majority.

In 1992, Duric left the Army, his disagreements with leadership and distaste for the war making it untenable for him to remain in the Army. In fact, he felt the need to leave the country, settling in with a friend in a border town in Hungary. Out of work, out of training, away from family and friends, Duric merely bided time.

And then one day in July, 1992, his mentor and friend, Jusuf Makaravic, gave him the news that the IOC was inviting ten athletes from the newly established nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and that Duric was one of them. The IOC understood that many of these athletes would not be in peak condition due to the war, that their intent was to emphasize that all nations should participate in the Olympics. Duric’s first reaction was “But I’m a Serb.”

Duric immediately understood the difficult decision before him. As he explained in his autobiography, “Beyond Borders“, Duric was swayed by his mentor’s rationale.

“Yes, Aleks. But you’re a Bosnian first, don’t forget that. You can play your part in showing the world that Bosnia does not necessarily mean Muslim, you show them that Bosnia is home to people of many backgrounds. You lived your life in Bosnia, you trained half your live on the river Bosna, you deserve to compete for Bosnia as one of their first ever Olympians.”

Help Bosnia Now

As Duric told me, despite his friend’s advice, he felt so alone as he knew his family and friends would be made uncomfortable with a Serbian son representing a nation in conflict with Serbians in the former Yugoslavia. “When I got this call for the Olympics, it was definitely one of the toughest decisions I had to make. I was sitting in my room alone. In the back of my mind, I could deal with friends. But I didn’t want to disappoint my father, my mother, my brother.”

In the end, it was the life lessons from his parents that enabled Duric to make his decision to go the Olympics. He had learned a lot from his parents, particularly how not to hate other colors, other religions. “My mom and dad shaped me. When I was growing up, I was told that you have to respect all people, even if they are not good to you. All my friends were Bosnians. I was a Bosnian.”

And from that moment, Duric was an Olympian from Bosnia-Herzegovina, fulfilling a dream he had nestled for over a decade. “Holy shit, I’m going to the Olympics!”

Roy_1965 maybe
Roy, around 1 years old

On May 1, 2015, I kicked off my blog, The Olympians, with the intent of providing at least one blog post every day. Here we are, 365 days, over 10,000 visitors, nearly 20,000 views later, and I have kept my promise. Many thanks to all those who have helped me along the way!

Below are 20 of my favorite posts in 2016:

  1. The 1962 Asian Games: How Cold War Politics Sparked Heated Debate, Leading to the Indonesian Boycott of the 1964 Games
  2. “Do it Again. Again. Again.”: The Uncompromising Mindset of an Olympic Champion
  3. The Dutch Boycott of the 1956 Olympic Games Part 2: Rehabilitation
  4. The Hijab and The Turban: Why American Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad is Important  
  5. Dr Jega: The Fastest Man in Asia Learns that Life Works in Mysterious Ways
  6. Duke Kahanamoku Part 1: Surfing’s Johnny Appleseed Inspires Australia’s Pioneering Surfers and an Entire Sports Culture
  7. Japanese Face Off in Australia on the 15th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor
  8. Ken Sitzberger and Jeanne Collier: Diving’s Power Couple in 1964
  9. The Pain and Joy of Pain: Dick Roth and the Gold that Almost Wasn’t
  10. The Perfectionist’s Dilemma: The All-or-Nothing Life of Hurdler Ikuko Yoda
  11. Rare Canadian Gold in Tokyo: George Hungerford and Roger Jackson Win the Coxless Pairs
  12. The Record-Setting Row2Rio Team: Following in the Footsteps (Sea legs?) of Christopher Columbus
  13. Remembering the 3.11 Earthquake and Tsunami, My Ancestors, and the Tokyo Olympic Cauldron
  14. Sazae-san Part 3: Suicides and The Pressure Cooker of Japanese Education
  15. Simple is Best: Finally, The New Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Logos
  16. Singaporean Cyclist Hamid Supaat and the Big Chill: Competing on the World Stage
  17. The “Six-Million-Dollar-Man” and “Real Steel” Scenarios: Science and Technology Blurring the Lines and Creating New Ones  
  18. Tommy Kono: Out of an Internment Camp Rises Arguably the Greatest Weightlifter of All Time    
  19. Unbroken: The Truly Epic Story of Louis Zamperini Finally Shown in Japan
  20. Worrying Willy and Paradise Pete: How the US Army Prepped Recruits for Japan in the 1950s

Click here for my favorite posts from 2015! Again, many thanks for all your support!

Celebration_Row2Rio

When asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, George Mallory famously replied, “Because it’s there.”

That question, and those three words in response represent both awe and arrogance – the awe Man has in the face of nature’s immensity and fathomlessness, and the arrogance to conquer it.

And perhaps there was a bit of awe and arrogance in the Row2Rio team, who left dry land in Portugal on January 9 and stepped into a rowboat that could barely fit the four of them uncomfortably, and embarked on a nearly 2-month journey, rowing southwest across the Atlantic Ocean to get to Brazil.

On April 23rd, after 56 days alone in the vastness of the ocean, Jake Heath, Mel Parker, Luke Richmond and Susannah Cass, completed the second leg of their epic human-powered Odyssey from London to Rio de Janeiro. The first leg was by bicycle nearly 1,500 miles, from London to the Portuguese port city of Lagos. The third leg, which will commence next week, will also require them to cycle for about a month south to Rio de Janeiro, and their final destination.

Row2Rio team comples the 2nd leg
Finally, on land. The Row2Rio team completes the 2nd leg of their journey from London to Rio on bike and boat.

Rowing and cycling their way across continents and oceans is clearly not a walk in the park. So why are these four doing it?

  • Olympic Pride: “The Atlantic was in the way but we thought that crossing it might be a way of linking the two host cities,” Jake Heath told BT News. Adding that he had also been inspired by the “fantastic feelings and sense of pride” felt when London hosted the Olympics and Paralympics four years ago.
  • Fight Cancer: The Row2Rio team is raising funds for the non-profit organization, Macmillan Cancer Support. In this Daily Mail article, Ms Parker said: “For me, the best day on the boat was finding out that a very close relative of mine had been given the 12-month all clear from cancer. “There were definitely tears on the boat. It has been a tough year, not made any easier by me rowing the Atlantic. The support we have received from Macmillan has been incredible. We all realized in our own ways that we need to give something back – it’s time to payback the kindness we received, with this challenge of a lifetime.”
  • Inspire: Heath again explained in the same Daily Mail article why this journey has been important to him. Mr Heath, who has four nephews under the age of four, added: “I wanted to do something that would inspire my nephews. I would quite like to be the cool uncle Jake. I think it is better to have youngsters who are interested in exploring and seeing the world, rather than just looking at it on the internet.”

Here is a news clip from Brazilian TV, showcasing the team’s arrival in Brazil: