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.

3. The Brazilian people are taking pride in being the host. Despite Rio’s reputation as a tourist fixture, the Brazilians I’ve met seem to feel it’s underappreciated. Perhaps they have just been stung by all of the recent negative stories. But they seem earnest about wanting to welcome their global guests.

4. I have seen but one mosquito. But I keep spraying insect repellent every day.

5. The Olympics feel quite separate from Rio’s real conditions. It’s hard not to notice. The Olympic venues all look new and modern, while most of Rio’s buildings and infrastructure seem outdated. One hopes the Olympic investments will pay off past the Games.

6. When the Games begin, the side issues seem to fade. Inside Olympic Park, one doesn’t hear about Zika, crime, and the economy – although one relatively inebriated Brazilian spoke to me for ten minutes about the country’s corrupt politicians. (That happened off-camera.) For the most part, one only hears about the events.

7. These Olympics feature a much more global crowd than the Sochi Winter Games. I remember covering the Sochi Olympics and feeling like 90% of the crowd was from the host country of Russia. Rio is a far more easily reached destination; it has drawn in fans from a variety of nations.

8. For Atlanta, the Summer Games feel much more relevant. In Sochi I covered one athlete. In Rio I am following a dozen. My days are never boring.

9. I’m doing my best to pace myself. My days are also never short. I am riding home now after a 16-hour workday, and I will face another such day tomorrow. That’s the assignment, and I simply try to eat well and avoid overexerting myself.

10. The pageantry of the Olympics always stands out, regardless of location. I cannot help but be impressed by the Olympics’ ability to unify and connect. The events come with their share of controversies and concerns, but at their core they always accomplish their core mission. And I am enjoying this experience up close.

To the next ten days, we go!

Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at

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