morteza-mehrzadselakjani-against-bosnia-herzegovina
Mehrzad spiking his team to victory in the Rio Paralympics sitting volleyball finals.

The athletes who participate in the Paralympics challenge our perceptions about what a “normal” person looks like or is capable of. When people like me – someone who does not interact frequently with people who have so-called disabilities – watch the para-athletes in action, we are amazed. The British broadcaster of the 2012 Paralympics in London, Channel 4, emphasized that point by creating the fantastic promotional video called “Meet the Superhumans.”

By the time Rio rolled around in 2016, running from September 7 to 16, the mindset towards the Paralympics was shifting – that athletes were not superhuman, but they were people like the rest of us who could develop their talents, sometimes up to world-class levels. Channel 4 captured that sentiment in a promotional video called “Yes, I can!

If you watched the Rio Paralympics, you were likely amazed by people who appear relatively disabled because they can’t see or hear, are missing a limb or two, or are paralyzed in parts of their bodies, for example. But amazing is becoming the new normal. By the time Tokyo 2020 rolls around, perhaps we won’t be amazed at the overcoming of disability – we will be amazed at the athleticism and competitiveness.

For now, here are stories from the 2016 Rio Paralympics, which frankly, amazed me.

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Jefinho celebrates his equalising goal against China (Photo: Marcio Rodrigues/MPIX/CPB)
Roy with Fiji 7 dollar bill
Me with a Fijian 7-dollar bill

Just got this in the mail from a friend – a 7-dollar note!

When the rugby team from Fiji won their nation’s first gold medal in the Olympics’ first rugby seven’s final at the 2016 Rio Olympics last August, it seemed as if all 900 thousand citizens jumped up and rejoiced.

Eight months later, the Fiji government commemorated the Olympian accomplishment not just with a 50-cent coin, but also a 7-dollar bill! A million of these bills, with the very uncommon denomination of 7, were printed, and of course, they are legal tender. (Seven Fiji dollars is about USD3.40.)

Fiji Seven Dollar Bill_Front

The front of the bill is a striking vertical layout, featuring the team captain Osea Kolinisau with the ball, and the team coach, Ben Ryan, looking contemplative. The back of the bill shows the entire team. A watermark shows team member Svenaca Rawaca running with the ball as well.

Thanks Victor Warren!

(Victor was a member of the Canadian field hockey team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.)

Fiji Seven Dollar Bill_Back

Aska Cambridge Keeping Up with Usain Bolt in 4x100 Relay
Aska Cambridge Keeping Up with Usain Bolt in 4×100 Relay – click on image to see Olympic Channel’s “Games to Remember”

The Olympic Channel features a video that recalls images and moments from the 2016 Rio Olympics. Entitled “Games to Remember – Re-Experience Rio 2016: The Official Summary of the Rio2016 Olympic Games,” the video runs over 37 minutes long.

I started it, but was only going to watch it for a few minutes. I ended up watching the entire video, a collection of short clips of the events of each of the 16 days. And they are all stunning!

Slow mo, normal speed, tracking shots, overhead shots, long shots, all edited to highlight the aesthetics of epic poetry in motion, to accentuate the limits to which the athletes will stretch themselves, to remind us of the chills we experienced when viewing the very best in the world achieve the highest levels of physical achievement.

Go to this link. If you can, put it up on your big flatscreen TV. And revisit the joy of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Kohei Uchimura from Games to Remember
Kohei Uchimura – click on image to see Olympic Channel’s “Games to Remember”
Rio Golf Course a year later
July 27, 2017 Guanabara bay. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Eight months before the start of the Rio Olympics, I wrote a post entitled: “Brazil’s Olympian Challenge: Everything.”

Unemployment in Brazil was 10%. Inflation was 10%. Brazil’s credit rating was junk status. The currency had devalued by a third at that point in December 2015.

Guanabara Bay, where the boat competitions would take place, was getting horrific PR due to pictures displaying the filthiest waters you’d never want to wade through.

The president of Brazil, Dilma Rouseff, was in the process of being deposed for corruption, as news of the biggest corruption investigation in Brazilian history was splashed across the news headlines on a daily basis.

And I wrote all that even before the Zika Virus became a thing.

A year later, not all that much has improved in Rio de Janeiro.

As this good AP summary of Rio a year later states, you could say there was some good to come out of the Rio Olympics.

The Olympics left behind a new subway line extension, high-speed bus service and an urban jewel: a renovated port area filled with food stands, musicians and safe street life in a city rife with crime. These probably would not have been built without the prestige of the Olympics. But the games also imposed deadlines and drove up the price. A state auditor’s report said the $3-billion subway was overbilled by 25 per cent.

Guanabara Bay a year later
July 27, 2017 Guanabara bay. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

But generally, the bad according to that article outweighed the good.

  • The Olympics left a half-dozen vacant sports arenas in the Olympic Park and 3,600 empty apartments in the boarded-up Olympic Village. Deodoro, a major complex of venues in the impoverished north, is shuttered behind iron gates.
  • A $20-million golf course is struggling to find players and financing. A few dozen were on the course on a recent, sunny Saturday. The clubhouse is mostly unfurnished, and it costs non-Brazilians 560 reals ($180) for 18 holes and a cart.
  • Since the Olympics, the bankrupt state of Rio de Janeiro has ceased major efforts to clean the bay, its unwelcome stench often drifting along the highway from the international airport. “I think it’s gotten worse,” Brazil’s gold-medal sailor Kahena Kunze said in a recent interview. “There was always floating trash, but I see more and more. It’s no use hiding the trash because it comes back. I figured it would get worse because I haven’t seen anything concrete being done.”
  • Some of the politicians behind the Olympics have been accused of graft, and organizers still owe creditors about $30 million to 40 million. Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who wept when Rio was awarded the games, was convicted last month on corruption charges and faces a 9 1/2-year prison term. He is appealing. Former Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes , the local moving force behind the Olympics, is being investigated for allegedly accepting at least 15 million reals ($5 million) in payments to facilitate construction projects tied to the games. He denies wrongdoing.

The Rio Olympic organizers are still struggling under the weight of an approximate USD40 million debt. When the organizers appealed to the IOC for relief, the IOC replied no, saying “it had already contributed a record $1.53 billion to the Rio Olympics.

Fortunately, the Brazilian government was able to find more sympathetic ears in the British government. It was announced on August 1, 2017 that the British government would donate GBP80 million (over USD100 million) to Brazil, the ninth largest economy, to help “reduce poverty and fund economic development.”

Of course, it’s not all bad news.

At least Ryan Lochte, the American swimmer who lied about being robbed at gunpoint at a Rio gas station, was actually cleared last month of charges that he falsely communicated a crime to authorities.

Yay!

Neymar nails the final penalty kick to win gold

On August 5, 2016, all eyes were on Rio de Janeiro.

Despite all the doomsayers’ diatribes about political corruption, the fears of the zika virus, the filth of Guanabara Bay, and the anemia of the Brazilian economy, the Games went on. And the Games were great!

Anthony Howe's Olympic sun

In the moving opening ceremony, the famed Brazilian love for music and dance were on display. Super model Gisele Bundchen strolled across the field to the tune of The Girl from Ipanema. The honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron was given unexpectedly to Athens marathoner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, whose 2004 Olympic marathon was bizarrely interrupted by a defrocked Irish priest. And the cauldron de Lima lit was stunning, the fire’s light reflected magnificently in a shining, swirling structure of metal places and balls, creating a spectacular golden vision of the sun.

A bright spot for the IOC was highlighting the plight of the global refugee issue by forming an all-refugee team, an excellent idea!

And to be honest, from a sports perspective, if you bring the very best athletes in the world together, the drama of the competition will subsume almost all else (for good and for bad.)

For Brazilians, here were a few of their nation’s most inspirational stories, starting with Neymar’s winning penalty shot that sealed Brazil’s first even Olympic gold in soccer.

Here are a few other amazing stories I covered, particularly from a Asia/Japan perspective:

The Rio Olympics were far from perfect. But those Games a year ago today had its moments, many that will be remembered for decades.

No doubt, more await when we See You in Tokyo!

See you in Tokyo Rio Olympics

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The Monster Strike mobile game ad in the Yamanote train in June, 2017.

I was on the Yamanote Line train when I looked up to see all in-car advertisements devoted to Japan’s #1 best-selling mobile game from 2016 – Monster Strike. I usually don’t care about mobile games, but the ad immediately caught my attention – animals in mid-stride racing together, on a dark black background.

It is exactly the same concept as the second of designer Yusaku Kamekura‘s poster in 1962, marketing the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to come.

Kamekura emblem design_2

That same evening, I see a television commercial for a logistics company called Kuroneko Yamato, with nearly the exact same design concept. Kuroneko means “black cat”, so with a black cat leading five Kuroneko transportation men in a sprint, they put the bodies in action on a yellow background instead. And yet the nod to Kamekura’s poster design is unmistakable.

Kuro Neko Shinka
Kuroneko Takkyubin Ad

After Kamekura settled on a design for their second Tokyo Olympics poster (click here to see the first design that won Kamekura the Olympic account), he assigned Osamu Hayasaki as the photographer, and Jo Murakoshi as the director of the project. The idea was to employ photography for the second photo, instead of the mainstream use of illustrations.

Their idea must have been to capture the idea of speed and power, so they arranged to have men from the US Military (from the airbase in Tachikawa as I believe someone once told me) dress in track gear, and move as if exploding from starting blocks. As this site explains, they employed four photographers to snap a shot of the runners in motion, in the dark, pressing the shutter button just as they flashed strobe lights.

It is said that it took over 80 takes to get just the right balance for that poster.

And over 50 years later, this meme lives on.

Rio Closing Ceremony_3
From the 2016 Rio Olympics closing ceremony video tribute to Tokyo 2020

Nigel Talton likely imagined himself breaking the tape at a championship track meet, or even the Rio Olympics, but he probably didn’t imagine himself winning a sprint at SunTrust Park…between innings at Atlanta Braves games…in a teal-colored spandex suit with big blue goggles.

But when you’re an aspiring track star, you do what you must to pay the bills.

Working two jobs in order to afford to keep training in track, the 26-year-old from Fort Valley, Georgia had a moment on Friday, June 9, 2017 that most people or companies can only dream of – a video that goes viral.

Talton’s job is to play a superhero-like character called The Freeze, who races from the left field pole at SunTrust Park, around the warning track in front of the outfield fence to a finish line in right center field, against a fan who has a 200-foot head start. The Freeze almost always wins, but in this particular case, the fan celebrated just before reaching the finish line, only to be passed by The Freeze. The fan’s shock and subsequent face plant made the video must-see viewing, and made The Freeze a star.

According to track blog, FloTrack, while Talton is employed part-time by the Atlanta Braves as a ground keeper and The Freeze, he is a legitimate sprinter, with solid personal bests, including 10.47 in the 100 meters and 21.66 in the 200. But as FloTrack explained, world-class track is a highly competitive world. “Talton came out of college as an accomplished athlete, but in the cutthroat world of track and field, his times were not good enough to secure a sponsorship.”

And yet, Talton loves to run and does not want to give up on his dreams. In fact, he aims to make the 2018 World Indoors. “I just want to make a team before I’m done,” said Talton. “My route to that path was detoured, and this came upon me, so right now I’m just continuing to train… just training and saving up for next year.”

Nigel Talton and his alter ego The Freeze
Nigel Talton and his alter ego The Freeze
Except for the elite, most of those who have finished with college and the support it provides for track and field athletes have to enter the rat race. People like Talton have to scrape by to continue the dream.

“I just want to have the opportunity to train as a professional track runner,” Talton said in FloTrack. “I wish there was a program for us athletes. It’s so hard for us athletes that don’t have sponsors that have potential. It’s very hard, that’s why I work two jobs. I’m going to continue to keep my faith and continue working for the indoor season… It’s not about me, I’m just doing it to inspire others and to entertain.”

There’s no doubt that RaceTrac, the company that operates convenience stores throughout the southern part of the US, and sponsors this between-inning activity for the Atlanta Braves, has lucked into a marketing bonanza in promoting a frozen drink called “Numbskull.” The question is, can Talton leverage his 15-minutes of fame into sponsorship, and make it a little easier for this world-class sprinter to take his game to the next level.

“I never know what’ll happen out of this ‘Beat The Freeze’ contest,” Talton said in this Washington Post article. “I’m just blessed and waiting, waiting for whatever opportunity come across my way.”