Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2024

The Rocky Road To Rio

Two years ago I hung up my riding helmet and spent six months as a volunteer in one of Rio de Janeiro’s notorious slums. During that time I not only got to know the city well, but I also learned something about getting things done in Rio’s oppressively bureaucratic culture.
PUBLISHED
WORDS BY

ADVERTISEMENT

Two years ago I hung up my riding helmet and spent six months as a volunteer in one of Rio de Janeiro’s notorious slums. During that time I not only got to know the city well, but I also learned something about getting things done in Rio’s oppressively bureaucratic culture.

So as the Pan American Games, slated for the last three weeks in July, approached this summer, my heart began to ache for the “Marvelous City” I abandoned after my money and visa ran out. I was simultaneously shocked and elated when the editors at the Chronicle asked me, a lowly editorial intern, to cover the one of the biggest international events of the year. Editor’s note: We asked Mollie to cover the Games because she speaks fluent Portuguese, knows the area so well and has been one of our best interns.

In 2005, when I was in Rio, the city was already abuzz with excitement for the Pan Ams. The city’s most famous soccer stadium, Maracanã, was undergoing a year-long facelift, and efforts to spruce up the city were evident everywhere you went.

But this May the New York Times published a front-page story detailing the myriad debacles in Rio’s Pan Am preparations. I must confess that I read the article with a snigger, smugly believing that I could have written the same piece a year ago. Having experienced Brazilian-style bureaucracy first-hand, I wasn’t surprised to hear of brilliant schemes that fell to pieces: underprivileged youths hired as tour guides erupting in gang violence during orientation; a promised metro line existing only as a blueprint; an expanded stadium a year behind in construction; security efforts dissolving into a battle for control between branches of law enforcement. Fiascos like these are endemic to the Brazilian society.

ADVERTISEMENT

Even worse, equestrian sports faced additional challenges. Cross-country course building fell behind schedule, and health concerns and the resulting regulations have proven difficult to work around. With well-deserved bad press and complications surrounding the horse sports, I can understand why the general mood surrounding the Games is less than enthusiastic.

For my part, I’m excited to attend the Pan Am Games, not just because this will be my first international competition, but also because I know the secret that has been drowned out by all of the hullabaloo: the city is fabulous. It’s the most gorgeous place on the planet. There are 10 million residents sandwiched between world-famous beaches and an incredible mountainous rain forest.

This is a welcoming city too, where every street corner houses an inexpensive café offering tiny sweet cups of coffee and a dizzying array of fresh-made fruit juices. More importantly, I know that every single visitor will be astounded by the kindness and honest decency of the Brazilians themselves. I also know that the tremendous national pride of Brazilians and their pride in particular of their strong equestrian heritage will guide their insistence on excellence during the equestrian portion of the Games.

I will be amazed if the Pan American Games go smoothly—more than likely there will be more bumps in the road ahead for the athletes and visitors—but in Brazil few obstacles are insurmountable. Besides, this is an international competition, and shouldn’t part of the challenge—and the excitement—be working through uniquely international problems? So follow me on a journey to Brazil for the Pan Am Games—online coverage begins on July 14 and continues through July 29. And join me in wishing the U.S. riders good luck, or as the Brazilians say, boa sorte.

Mollie Bailey

Categories:

ADVERTISEMENT

EXPLORE MORE

Follow us on

Sections

Copyright © 2024 The Chronicle of the Horse