MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: 16 odd observations from covering the ’16 Summer Games

This assignment is not normal.

I’ve said that before, right?

In fact, I have probably detailed it quite a bit in this space over the past few weeks. I have discussed how this three-week Olympic experience affects my diet, sleep, and health.

But I probably have not described much of the minutiae.

Here, then, is this list. As my assignment winds down (I leave Monday following the closing ceremonies), I bring you 16 odd observations from covering the 2016 Olympics:

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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Just hold on, we’re going home (almost)

I started noticing on Sunday.

For so long, those of us working at the Olympics were so consumed with our work that we rarely talked about our families. We reveled in the excitement of the Olympics, focused on the many assignments and opportunities in front of us, and tried to stay afloat long enough to get a sustainable amount of sleep per night.

Things changed Sunday. The weekend brought, for many, a relative lull, in both activity and demand for content. We run far fewer newscasts on the weekend, so we can dial back somewhat on how many stories we produce. Many of us did so, enabling us to catch up with family members who had previous received the briefest of conversational windows.

For my part, those catch-ups – and the simple opportunities to breathe – allowed me to think about my life back home. I quickly realized how much I missed it.

I was not alone. I took part in and passed by conversations that included statements like this:

“Only one more week …”

“I talked to my kids today, and it just broke my heart …”

“I think I’m ready to go home.”

I have seen this happen before. On both of my previous Olympic assignments, I noticed a tendency for journalists to get antsy towards the end of the Games’ first week – which, for most of us, marked the end of our second week in a foreign country. The end draws nearer, and people begin to get both restless and wistful for home – even despite the mountain of work still ahead.

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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: One day, two legends on a stunning Saturday in Rio

The following statement should not come as a surprise, as I imagine it has become evident through my Olympic blog posts so far:

I am a huge sports fan.

I grew up wanting to broadcast the Super Bowl. I religiously followed my favorite teams and, for three years, wrote annual football preview magazines that filled 200 pages. I never sold them, and I never published them online because “online”, at that point, barely existed. But I loved writing them, just as I loved every way I could find to soak in the world of sport.

Back then, I longed for the moments when I could watch, in person, the best athletes in the world.

I still remember, in the early Nineties, going to the Meadowlands in New Jersey to see my hometown Nets take on the Chicago Bulls – and, of course, their superstar, Michael Jordan. That night His Airness played an average game (for him) but still provided a handful of highlights that dazzled the crowd. I savored that game because, for one night, I got to witness the best.

This past Saturday, covering the 2016 Summer Games, I experienced that again – twice.

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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: The Olympics barely hint at the real Rio

I did something very important yesterday.

I took a field trip.

And it was very necessary.

I have spent the past two weeks covering the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But, I have found, unless I make an effort to do so, I wind up exploring very little of the host city. I spend the majority of most days in our workspace, a windowless room inside the International Broadcast Centre. I otherwise find myself in various parts of Barra Olympic Park, covering stories and events.

This means I spend little time in the real Rio.

And let me be clear: Olympic Park is not the real Rio.

This is not a slam on the Olympics. It’s a simple fact. The Summer and Winter Games provide the best in pageantry and competition but provide an in-person experience that is sanitized and corporate. If one spends two weeks in Rio without venturing outside of the park, one will not experience the city’s diversity of culture, cuisine, and aesthetics.

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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Pins … they’re a habit and a state of mind

When I arrived at my first Olympics in Vancouver in 2010, I didn’t understand pin trading.

I grasped the concept. I had been told about the concept and advised to bring some 11Alive pins to trade. But I ignored the advice. Pin trading sounded silly, and I didn’t get why it was a big deal.

By the time I left Vancouver, I had become a full-fledged pin convert.

Some people definitely come to the Olympics to collect pins. They value the more expensive ones, look to make deals with other traders and fans, and approach the objects from the perspective of a hobbyist. Most pin traders, though, seem to approach it for the social element. They want to trade pins so they can remember the stories behind them. They want to be able to look at their pins years later and instantly transport themselves back to when they received them.

I find myself doing this more regularly than I would have expected. I have kept my pin chains from the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games, and I still check them out on occasion and revel in the memories.

Already in 2016, I have snagged some great pins … and stories.

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MY OLYMPIC JOURNEY: What’s my Rio diet? It’ll make sense when I explain

A few years ago, I went with my sister and a good friend on a three-day hike of the Grand Canyon. At the outset, our guide gave us each a bag of snacks – greasy stuff like Fritos and corn nuggets. We canvassed the snack bags with some apprehension over the sheer unhealthiness of the products inside.

Our guide, perhaps sensing our bafflement, paused and then said with a smile:

“Enjoy it. It’s the only time you’ll be able to eat this stuff without worrying.”

His point was clear. For the next three days, we would be scaling mountains, carrying backpacks, and burning massive amounts of calories. We wouldn’t just want those snacks, he was saying; we would need the empty carbs to stay nourished.

I thought about that conversation the other day in Rio as I stared at my dinner plate of fried fish, egg noodles, and French fries.

Surely, this isn’t healthy, I thought. But I need to stay nourished.

Such is the state of mind at the Olympics, where I have essentially hit the halfway point of a three-week assignment. Several days into Week 1, I noticed my belt felt a little looser than normal; I quickly realized I had already lost enough weight to drop a whole buckle. I also saw my daily step counts reaching the 15,000 mark and my daily sleep count dropping toward the five-hour mark.

I knew then I needed to eat more frequently – and more heftily – than I had for the first few days.

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MY OLYMPIC JOURNEY: 10 observations from 10 days in Rio

The Olympics have just begun, but I am nearing my halfway point.

Tuesday marks the tenth day since I touched down in Rio. In that time I have worked for nearly 150 hours and slept for maybe 50. I have collected some pins, held a silver medal, and watched one of the most exciting sporting events I can remember seeing live.

In short, the assignment has been extraordinary in just about every way imaginable.

I always aim during these trips, as with any story, to take you with me as much as possible. I try to provide, through my stories, social media posts, and blog entries, an understanding and perspective of what I see on the ground.

With that in mind, I offer 10 observations from my first ten days at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro:

1. Rio is as picturesque as we hear. Put the Olympics aside for a second. As a vacation destination, Rio is pretty impressive. Between the beach, the mountains, the sights, and the food, a tourist can definitely find a week’s worth of activity in this vibrant city.

2. Brazilian food, when I get to eat it, is outstanding. For the most, I eat whatever is served in our workspace at the NBC commissary. But every so often, I get to dine at a legit Brazilian restaurant. Whenever I do, I love what I eat.

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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Watching a Bulldog go for gold

“This is what it’s all about.”

That was my thought while I stood in the bowels of Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic Aquatics Stadium, peeking around a curtain to watch one of the most exciting races of the Summer Games’ first weekend.

I had been following a slew of local Olympians leading up to my assignment to Rio, but few impressed me quite like Chase Kalisz. I had read a Washington Post article that profiled his recovery from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an auto-immune disorder that forced doctors to induce Kalisz into a coma. Kalisz was eight at the time; by 18, he had developed into one of the top young competitive swimmers in the country. He signed on with the University of Georgia and proceeded to set school and NCAA records.

He continued his rocket-like rise this year, upsetting Ryan Lochte at the US Olympic Trials to qualify for the 2016 Summer Games. I interviewed him the day that I left for Rio; he seemed like a genuinely gracious person. But I found myself more moved by a previous interview, after he won at Trials, when he spoke of how much he had dreamed of this moment.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” he said with a grin that wouldn’t go away. “This is the one thing I’ve been wanting to do my entire life. This is been my dream since … it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted this bad.”

That quote told his story. It tells the story of so many athletes who compete in various races and meets that simply don’t approach the grandness of the Olympics. Kalisz would say after his Rio race that he felt less nervous at the Games than at Trials, because he almost felt more pressure to qualify for the Olympics than to medal at them.

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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: I tried a coxinha, and Brazilian Twitter went wild

I can barely believe it, but I have already been in Brazil for nearly a week. In that time, I have done multiple reports and made numerous posts to Facebook and Twitter, cataloging some of Rio de Janeiro’s most iconic sights and elaborate Olympic venues.

But nothing has gained as much attention as a seemingly innocuous Tweet about a Brazilian culinary staple.

On Wednesday, a large group of us went on a day-long tour of the city, and midway through we stopped at the famous Selaron Steps. As we wrapped up and awaited our buses, one of my colleagues began talking with a Rio resident and pointed at an item in her hand from a street vendor.

It was a coxinha.

I had no idea what a coxinha was, but my colleague described it as a chicken hush puppy. Then she started passing it around.

I had to try … and I’m glad it did, because it was delicious. Within minutes, I posted the proof of my culinary victory to Twitter. It received a few likes and re-Tweets but quickly sank into the ether, like nearly every other Tweet, never to surface again.

Except it did.

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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Getting up-close and in the clouds in Rio

“It is what it is.”

That’s the sentence I heard from several of my colleagues as we stood among the clouds, barely able to see ten feet in front of us.

The site? Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro. It’s most famous for the landmark that stands atop it: the Christ the Redeemer statue, which stands 124 feet tall and in 2007 was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Hundreds of visitors flock daily to the statue, but they equally admire the views that extend from it.

Not on this day.

We found ourselves awash in a mixture of fog, mist, and full-on rain. We had seen peeks of the vistas as we rode a cable car to the top, but by the time we arrived, we could hardly see the statue.

It is what it is.

And, in this case, “what it is” was pretty freaking surreal.

The statue of Christ the Redeemer seemed like a silhouette in the distance, even as it towered over us. I could not help but be impressed and awed.

We visited the statue as part of a day-long tour arranged by NBC. We hit a number of Rio’s most iconic spots and came upon a barrage of beautiful views and eclectic sights.  I plan to put together a full video report about the day, but in the meantime I figured I could provide a photo gallery so you can see what I saw.

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