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.

Of course, I have been assigned to cover not just the Games but their setting. I must, in order to properly do my job, make regular trips into Rio and explore the city.

(I know, I know … it’s a difficult job.)

On Thursday I explored. I went with a small group from my company to Praca Maua, a revitalized port that holds the famous Olympic cauldron. Even the drive brought a cluster of cultural realizations:

  • We saw the variety of architecture that exists from Rio’s beach areas to its more historic, business-centric downtown.
  • We got an up-close look at numerous favelas, which are the slums that hold far many residents of the city.
  • We experienced typical Rio traffic, which is heavy even in the noon and 3 PM hours. I would hate to sit in rush hour.
  • We saw several of the other Olympic venues and stadiums that have been built around the city.

Then we got to the port, which provided outstanding views. It reminded several of us of the Fisherman’s Wharf area of San Francisco, with large crowds walking through the various tourist sites and nearby food trucks.

(I ate a churro. It made my day.)

We also got to witness the cauldron in person, and it shows as much flair and quirkiness as it does on screen. I interviewed several Brazilians, each of whom had unique descriptions for what the cauldron resembled.

The whole trip took four hours, representing a fraction of my day, but it reminded me of the vibrancy and complexity that is often tempered inside Olympic Park. I get the same feeling whenever I head outside the venue to sample authentic Brazilian cuisine, as opposed to the serviceable but duller food provided at our commissary.

(For example, yesterday at the commissary, they served smiley-faced tater tots. If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it.)

I aim to provide, in my stories, as authentic and realistic a look as possible at the many sides of Rio. As much as I love covering the various Olympic events, I also relish the chance to get an occasional break from the venues and savor the city.

I plan to keep the field trips coming.

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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