jamaica-4x100-beijing
Nesta Carter, second from left, tested positive for doping following Jamaica’s relay gold win at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. (Kevin Frayer/The Associated Press)

The 4×100 relay is a team sport in the strictest ways – all four individuals have to do their part, either by executing exactly to plan and training, or by following the rules to ensure minimum eligibility. If one individual fails, the entire team fails. There is very little room for error.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Usain Bolt made history running the third leg in the 4×100 men’s relay, becoming the first person ever to win gold in the 100-meter, 200-meter and 4×100 men’s relay in the same athletics event. Not only that, he achieved all three victories in world record time.

But in late January of 2017, it was announced that his teammate, Nesta Carter, had tested positive for a banned stimulant (methylhexaneamine). In 2008, after the finals, Carter’s urine test came up negative. But due to the shocking news last year of systematic state-sponsored doping in Russia, the IOC asked for re-testing of results going back ten years, as the tools to uncover traces of banned substances has improved significantly over the years. Dozens of athletes have now tested positive, many of them medalists, including Carter. And because Carter has been disqualified, so too has the entire Jamaican 4×100 team.

Many who love and respect Bolt feel Bolt’s record has been tarnished, perhaps unfairly. And when Bolt and his teammates won gold in the 4×100 relay at the Rio Olympics, he became the first person ever to win the 100-meter, 200-meter and 4×100 men’s relay in three straight Olympics – the so-called Triple Triple. Well, that golden symmetry has been disturbed with the removal of the 4×100 gold in Beijing.

But most people will agree, the loss of the relay gold will not hurt Bolt’s immense legacy. Even Bolt believes that to be the case. “I think I’ve accomplished a lot. This hasn’t changed what I have done throughout my career. I have worked hard and pushed and done things that no one has done before. I have won three gold medals over the 100m and 200m, which no one has ever done before.”

trinidad-and-tobago-silver-at-beijing
Trinidad and Tobago trading up from silver to gold

The part of this story that does not get played up, the happy side of this story, is the medalists who move up the medal table:

Trinidad and Tobago: a traditional powerhouse in sprinting, took Olympic gold in the 4×100 meter relay for the first time. While they could have whooped it up, there is so much respect for Usain Bolt amidst the Caribbean nations, that the celebration in Trinidad and Tobago was somewhat muted, as represented in the comments of Trinidad’s gold-medalist, Richard Thompson. “Bolt’s achievements have been recorded in the annals of athletics and no one can take that away. Rather than lament for the Jamaican team, I prefer to focus all my energy on lauding my Trinbagonian athletes who ran a ‘clean’ race.”

Japan: At the Rio Olympics, Japan took silver in the men’s 4×100 relay, second only to mighty Jamaica, in a surprise. The Japan team had bested their country’s top men’s relay track result, bronze at the Beijing Olympics. But now, the men’s sprint team from 2008 are now equal to the 2016 – silver medalists. And heading into the Tokyo2020 Olympics, young runners have even greater reason to be inspired to train hard, run clean and dream.

Brazil: Perhaps the happiest group in these medal re-shuffles are the fourth-place finishers who wake up one morning to find out they are now bronze medalists. They missed the pomp and circumstance of standing on the medal podium and seeing their flag raised in front of billions of people. They may have missed financial opportunities that come with a medal finish right after the Olympics. But they now have something they didn’t expect to have – a medal. As Bruno de Barros, a member of Brazil’s 4×100 relay team, said “It’s a great sense of happiness, despite the time lapse, which isn’t really important. The feeling of being an Olympic medalist is the same. In fact, after waiting so long, it’s worth more.”

shinji-takahira-handing-off-to-nobuharu-asahara-of-the-now-silver-medal-winning-mens-relay-team-from-japan
Shinji Takahira handing off to Nobuharu Asahara of the now silver-medal winning men’s relay team from Japan.
Advertisements
chapecoense-players-who-did-not-travel
Players who did not travel on the fatal flight paid tribute to their teammates at the club’s stadium in Chapecó. Photograph: Douglas Magno/AFP/Getty Images

“We ask for permission to approach, we have a fuel problem!”

“Nine thousand feet! “Vectors! Vectors!”

Those were, according to this article, reported to be the last words of the pilot who, on November 29, suddenly lost control of a plane carrying 77 people, including members of the Chaepecoense soccer team. The Chapecoense team was travelling from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Medellin, Colombia when their Avro RJ85 jet crashed, killing all but 6 fortunate passengers, three of them members of the team of 22.

Up to that moment, Chapecoense was living large, playing the role of lovable upstart, making the finals of the Copa Sudamericana, a major soccer tournament in South America. From a small town called Chapeco in Western Brazil, the Chapecoense Warriors were playing well against the rich teams since the end of the Rio Olympics in August, strong teams like Argentina’s Independiente and San Lorenzo. But tragedy struck unexpectedly and football fans across South America mourned, but none more so painfully than the hometown fans. Here’s how The Guardian described it:

Among townspeople, there is a sense that the loss of most of their plucky team of giantkillers wasn’t just a local tragedy, but something bigger: the loss of a tight, well-organised, and competent unit that stood out for its unexpected success in a country that has lost its way.

A Chapecoense fan at the vigil in Chapecó.png

This is a deeply divided nation which in the past year has been roiled by a debilitating recession, a gargantuan corruption scandal and the divisive impeachment of an unpopular leftwing president. At times it has seemed that Brazil is no longer sure how to manage itself; Chapecoense was a small team that knew exactly what it was doing.

In the history of aviation disasters involving sports teams, soccer squads have had more than their fair share of tragedies. As listed in this article, there was the crash in Turin Italy in 1949 that claimed the lives of 22 members of the Tornio soccer club. Nine years later, 8 members of Manchester United were among 23 deaths in a crash outside Munich airport in Germany. And in 1987, a plane carrying members of Alianza Lima crashed in the Pacific Ocean, killing 16 players and the team coach.

Olympic teams have not been spared. The United States ice figure skating team lost its entire 18-member team when it’s plane to Prague, Czechoslovakia crashed in Belgium. And then there was the US men’s boxing team, a group of 22 boxers aspiring to a shot at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, before the American government mandated a boycott of those Games. I wrote about that tragedy here.

The video below was taken just after their draw with San Lorenzo, which sent them to the Copa Sudaamericana finals, which was cancelled. Their elation only compounds the horrific sense of loss.

Neymar nails the final penalty kick to win gold
Brazil captain Neymar broke down in tears after scoring the penalty that earned his country’s first ever football gold medal (Photo: Getty Images)
It wasn’t a 7-1 victory. The universe did not bestow such poetic justice, the redemptive opportunity for Brazil to equal their slaughter at the hands of Germany at the World Cup in 2014. Brazil hosted that World Cup, losing to Germany by 6, and ending that tournament in shame.

On August 20, 2016, the day before the closing of the Rio Olympic Games, Brazil defeated Germany in the soccer finals, on the razor-thin edge of a penalty shootout. Despite the brilliance and success of Brazilian soccer over the decades, Brazil had never won an Olympic championship. On their 13th attempt, Brazil struck gold, and all of Brazil exhaled, and then danced.

After a tense 90 minutes of play that left the two powers tied 1-1, and then an additional 30 minutes of extra time, it came down to penalty kicks. Germany’s Matthias Ginter was up first, and he slotted the ball into the lower right corner, the Brazilian goalie, Weverton, guessing correctly but not able to handle it. The German goalie, Timo Horn guessed correctly on Renato Augusto‘s shot, but the ball zipped into the upper right hand corner of the net. On Germany’s second attempt, Weverton had Serge Gnabry‘s shot lined up, but it slipped under his arm pit and into the net. Marquinhos of Brazil sent his shot into the upper left hand corner of the net to equalize. And on it went, Julian Brandt, then Rafinha, Niklas Sule, and then Luan, their aim, all true.

When Germany’s Nils Petersen stepped up, with penalty kicks tied at 4-4, momentum was hinting at another score from Petersen. But momentum doesn’t last forever. Petersen’s shot went to Weverton’s left, and the Brazilian goalie got his hands out to block it. When the ball fell harmlessly aside, the Maracanã exploded. Everyone watching knew Brazil was on the verge of a magical moment.

BRASIL E ALEMANHA
Weverton saves the match. Foto: LEONARDO BENASSATTO/FUTURA PRESS/FUTURA PRESS/ESTADÃO CONTEÚDO
Up stepped Brazilian sensation Neymar, who had performed superbly during this Olympic run, and in fact scored Brazil’s only goal on a perfect free kick in the first half of the match. Gold and glory for Brazil was his alone to grasp, as billions around the world held their breath.

Neymar nailed it, his knees buckling as he fell to the grass. A flood of tears streamed down his face, tears for so long kept at bay by the repressive weight of a nation. As he lay there on his back, his hands covering his face, there was nothing left for Neymar to give. But to Brazilians, he had given them everything as the stadium erupted in a cathartic fit of joy.

The fears of the zika virus. The pollution of Guanabara Bay. The impeachment of the Brazilian president. The worst economy in decades. The constant news of corruption and crimes, and the concomitant and constant criticism Brazilians endured not only by foreigners but within their own ranks.

At the moment the ball hit the back of the net, Neymar made it all right.

The Rio Olympics begin today, August 5, 2016. Coincidentally, it is a date affiliated with historical and cultural significance for Brazilians. Let’s take a look at three Brazilians who either were born or died on August 5.

Deodoro de Fonseca
Deodoro da Fonseca
Brazil’s First President: It was on this day in 1827, Deodoro da Fonseca was born. He grew up in Alagoas, when Brazil was a monarchy, and Pedro II was the emperor of Brazil. Fonseca became a military man, and ended up leading an army faction that eventually toppled Emperor Pedro. Fonseca, as head of the coup, became Brazil’s first President.

Oswaldo Cruz

The Scourge of the Scourge: It was on this day in 1872 when Oswaldo Cruz was born. An admirer of Louis Pasteur, and a specialist in bacteriology at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Cruz played in a significant role in improving the health of Brazilians at the turn of the 20th century. While smallpox had been wiped out in Europe and the US before 1900, Brazil was under threat of a smallpox epidemic in 1904. Under the Mandatory Vaccination Law, which Cruz was responsible for getting legislated, Cruz led an effort that allowed government workers to enter private homes and forcibly vaccinate people against smallpox, as well as to exterminate mosquitoes and rats, to prevent yellow fever and the bubonic plague.

Carmen Miranda
Carmen Miranda
The Brazilian Bombshell: She performed on Broadway, acted with Don Ameche and Betty Grable, and danced with President Franklin Roosevelt, and became the face of Latin America to the world. It was on this day in 1909 when Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha, aka Carmen Miranda, was born. Often wearing her trademark fruit hat, Miranda acted in 14 Hollywood films and becoming one of the most popular people in America in the 1940s and 1950s. It was on this day in 1955 when Miranda passed away.

Team of Refugee Olympic Athletes
Ten refugees have been selected to form the first-ever Refugee Olympic Athletes team.  © UNHCR

Nearly 60 million people in the world are considered refugees. If refugees were considered a sovereign nation, it would be the 22nd largest country in the world, in between France and Italy. But in France and Italy, its citizens live in relative safety and freedom. In the nation of Refugee, citizens live in perpetual instability, with little choice where they can reside.

To highlight the plight of refugees globally, the International Olympic Committee, in partnership with the United Nations Human Refugee Agency (UNHCR) made a wonderful decision to include a team of stateless athletes, to be called the Team of Refugee Olympic Athletes. They include a Syrian swimmer living in Brazil, and another living in Germany, two judoka from the Republic of Congo both now living in Brazil, a marathon runner from Ethiopia training in Luxembourg, and five middle-distance runners from South Sudan, who all live and run in Kenya.

Over 5 million people have perished in the ongoing civil wars in The Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yolande Mabika was separated from her parents in the midst of fighting. Orphaned she ran the streets alone as a young child, until she was picked up, put in a helicopter and placed in an institution for displaced children in the capital of Kinshasa. She learned judo, and became so good that she was selected to represent her country at the World Judo Championship in Rio de Janeiro, where, outside of the competition, she was held in captivity by her own coach. Having had enough, she left the hotel started her life as a refugee in Brazil.

With the advent of the Arab Spring, Syria began its descent into a long, cold winter. Since the Spring of 2011, the Syrian government has lost control of half of its country, fighting a long and bloody fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), creating millions of refugees in the process. Syrian swimmer, Yusra Mardini was in a boat with 20 other Syrians attempting to flee the murderous chaos of their country for what they hoped was safety across the Mediterranean Sea. But their rickety boat was taking on water. Mardina jumped in the water with her sister Sarah, and pushed the boat to Greece. Finally finding asylum in Berlin, Germany, Mardini is training for the 200-meter freestyle event in Rio.

South Sudan gained its independence in 2011, after decades of civil wars. Unfortunately violence due to ethnic conflict has continued, displacing anywhere from 20 to 50,000 people. James Nyang Chiengjiek escaped South Sudan at the age of 13 to avoid being forcibly recruited as a child soldier in one of the various militias involved in the conflict. He became a teenage refugee in a Kenyan camp. And when he joined a school that had a

feral cat in rio
A napping stray cat on the Escadaria Selarón staircase

On September 12, 1964, a month prior to the opening of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Mainichi Daily News published the last of a 15-part UPI series entitled, “Great Cities of the World”. The article was entitled “Rio: The City of Marching For Tomorrow”, a meaningless title really. The theme was a familiar one for emerging markets at the time: a fascinating city in a far-off land that was growing rapidly into prominence.

Below are a few of the highlights from that article about the city of Rio de Janeiro that provide us with hints to what has changed, and what has not over the past 52 years.

The Same

  • Corruption: “Rio is still Brazil’s center of political intrigue and corruption.” The article goes on to state that the laws are made in the recently established government seat, Brasilia, but that “the deals are made in elegant Copacabana Beach apartments owned by leading politicians, or by their mistresses, distant relatives or front men.” For sure, this is still true.
  • Industry: “Rio, outside the big coffee-and-automobile complex of Sao Paulo, has managed to win a positions in the textile, food processing and electronics industries.” Coffee and cars are still big exports for Brazil, as are textiles, electronics, aircraft, iron ore and orange juice.
  • Umbanda: “Umbanda claims 30,000 followers in Rio, but the signs would indicate more.” This uniquely Brazilian religion, a fusion of Roman Catholicism, African traditions, and indigenous American beliefs, is still a viable religion, with estimates of 400,000 followers in Brazil, with many of them likely in Rio.
  • Feral Cats: “No reformer has yet suggested doing away with Rio’s half-wild stray cats, numbering countless thousands, which dominate every park, alley and quiet street and no one is likely to attack them. A lot of Cariocas believe cats have ‘the souls of people.'” Rio, apparently, is still a cat haven.

 

Not the Same

  • Population: The population in 1964 was 3million. Today, Rio is creaking with a population over 11 million.
  • Maracana Stadium: Rio still goes crazy for soccer and plays big games in the Maracana Stadium. However, back in 1964, the stadium held an astounding 230,000 people. After the stadium was renovated and re-opened in 2013, it now seats 78,000.
  • Guanabara Bay: “The sparkling blue beauty of Guanabara Bay…”: That certainly isn’t a phrase bandied about these days.

 

guanabara bay pollution
Guanabara Bay

Always

Fun in the Face of Solemnity and Challenge: As was true in 1964, it is still true today: the symbol of devout Catholic belief, Christ the Redeemer, is seen as a symbol of faith and peace, and at the same time, an expression of sweet cynicism. As the article stated, “‘He’s not giving His blessings,’ Cariocas like to wisecrack. ‘He is shrugging His shoulders.'”

christ the redeemer

Headed to Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games? Here’s a post from Cozysweatercafe entitled “The insider’s guide to Rio baby!” The blogger interviews Sulvain Leclerc, a program manager in Sports Relations for the Canadian Olympic Committee. Leclerc had lived in Rio de Janeiro for a few months in 2013. Here are his recommendations for the less-obvious places to go, and things to do in Rio.

  1. Climb all the way to the top of Dos Irmãos for the best point of view of Rio

rio dos irmaos
A view of Rio from Dos Irmãos2.
2. Take the Santa Teresa bonde and explore this hood, its nature, its architecture and its street art

Bonde Santa Tereza
The electric trolley of Santa Teresa

3. Go to Niteroi and go to the Museo Contempora

Niterói Contemporary Art Museum
The Museo Contempora at Niteroi

4. Go to Pedra Bonita for amazing views of Barra da Tijuca

The view of Barra de Tijuca from Pedra Gavea
The view of Barra de Tijuca from Pedra Gavea
5. Go to Urca at Bar Urca and drink beers on the sidewalk and eat a Moqueca in the restaurant

SAMSUNG
Bar Urca
6. Go to a Juice Bar and drink any real juice (Suco)… and try them all: mango, abacaxi, marajuca, etc!

7. Go out in Lapa on a Friday night, this huge sea of people partying outside is spectacular. On the sidewalk, there’s music, food, alcohol. The party is outside and inside in the bars…

the lapa scene
The night scene at Lapa
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes
Rio mayor Eduardo Paes

Of the cities with the highest murder rates in the world, 41 of the top 50 are in Mexico and Latin America. Of those 41, 21 of them are in Brazil. It is both a stunning and unfortunate fact, particularly as Brazil is doing its best to get ready for the biggest sports show in the world – The Summer Olympics.

So by extension, there are concerns regarding crime in Rio de Janeiro.

Top 50 Most Violent Cities by Country_Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

A couple of weeks ago, Australian chef de mission, Kitty Chiller, announced that members of the Australian Olympic squad would not be allowed to visit the favelas “because we could not control visits involving a large number of athletes going to different places at different times.”

While the favelas in Rio, which are communities where the lowest income families often live, are a not-so-uncommon tourist destination, they are also apparently centers for crime: drugs, robberies, murder.

The mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, is doing all he can to fight off this negative perception. “There is a lot of ignorance about Rio and Brazil, a certain drama of how things are,” he said in response to Chiller’s announcement.

The world will come to Rio in August. Brazilians will welcome them with open arms. The first Olympic Games held in South America will be a tremendous event. And then life (and death) will likely go on…

See a previous post called “Life in the Favela: At War with the Pacifying Police

Fun Fact Brazil and Japan

Fun Fact #17: The biggest Japanese community outside of Japan is in Brazil.

I and my direct family and relatives are among the 1.4 million Nikkei living in the USA, which is the second largest home to people of Japanese ancestry. I had assumed American was the largest home to Nikkei (or people of Japanese ethnicity). But no, Wikipedia informs me that as many as 1.6 million are in Brazil, out of 2.6~3 million people who make up the Japanese diaspora.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Japan had pockets of deep poverty, and like the poor in so many other countries, the Japanese emigrated to the Americas. The Japanese were attracted to the lure of sugar in Hawaii, of oranges in California, and coffee in Brazil. When it became harder for Japanese to gain entry to the United States in the 1920s, they began to pour into the coffee bean plantations of Brazil.

Enticing Japanese to Work in Brazil circa 1900
Early 1900s propaganda poster encouraging Japanese immigration. Image courtesy of the Brazilian government.
The Japanese diaspora is not as numerous or far-reaching as the Chinese or Indian diaspora. But you will find evidence of the Japanese here and there. There are memorials dotted across Southeast Asia that note the presence of Japanese in the past two or three centuries. Surprisingly, many of them moved overseas during a period of internal conflicts and external isolationism – it was hard for Japanese to leave the country, and hard for foreigners to dock and enter Japan.

However, the Portuguese, effectively trading firearms and providing new insights into science and medicine, were allowed limited entry to Western Japan. And here is Fun Fact #2000 on Japan…something I had not known until I started looking into this so-called Japanese Diaspora: The Portuguese traders in the 16th and 17th centuries sold Japanese slaves to buyers overseas, particularly in the Portuguese colonies of India, Malaysia, Macao and Goa, India, as well as Europe.

As revealed in this research of Japanese historian, Michiko Kitahara, in his book “Naze Taiheiyo Senso ni Nattanoka (Why Did the Pacific War Break out?), “the trade between Japan and Portugal included Chinese products and, in fact, most of the products that Portuguese sold to Japanese were Chinese products, such as silk and spices.  But along with the trade of this kind, there also was a different type of trade, that has been little known both in Japan and in the rest of the world even to this day—Portuguese sold Japanese slaves overseas.”

hideyoshi toyotomi
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
When de facto leader and victor of a civil war in Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, heard that Japanese were being sold into slavery, he was outraged, and in the strongest diplomatic terms, insisted that the Portuguese stop trading in Japanese citizens and to return them to Japan at the expense of Japan. Hideyoshi understood that the Portuguese would not change, and so he applied real pressure to the only people he could, threatening the Japanese who were selling slaves to the Portuguese with execution.

The cold reality was that slavery was not outlawed in Japan, and that warring daimyos in Japan often converted their war prisoners into slaves. The most unfortunate of the unfortunate were shipped off to unknown shores, a lingering legacy of the modern-day Japanese diaspora.

Amazon-Jungle
Travel information to the Amazon: 4 hour direct flight from Rio, followed by either a 3 hour car journey or a short sea plane flight to the lodge.

If you’re going to fly all the way to Brazil for the Rio Olympic Games next August, you might as well spend a little getaway time and explore the areas outside Rio de Janeiro. Here is a list of 7 great destinations in Brazil.

Iguassu-Falls
Travel information to Iguassu Falls: 2 hour direct flight from Rio, followed by a 25 minute transfer.