A Walk In The Park

I am going to finish these Rio Paralympic recaps if it kills me. Best-case scenario, before the one-year anniversary of the Games. Worst-case scenario, before the next Games and another backlog of recaps. Dream big?

There's not a whole lot left I need to post about, but it's very important to me that I talk about Olympic park.

During the Games, the park was absolutely beautiful and full of people (despite all the worries about Paralympic ticketing and attendance). I can't even explain to you how excited I was to just make the walk from the main press center into the park, to pop into venues, to stroll around and soak up the atmosphere. But then the Games ended, and less than six months later the venues were in total disrepair. It breaks my heart. I have so many positive memories in those venues, in that city, and to see it all so decrepit already is devastating.

Deservedly so, everything you read about Rio and the Olympic park lately has been negative. But I'm going to take some time to rehash positive memories I experienced in these venues.

The Carioca Arenas

On one of our first days in Rio, the day before the opening ceremony, a few of us went for a walk in the empty park to try to get the lay of the land and see the sights. Our credentials got us into all venues, so we stopped into one of the Cariocas (three adjacent, semi-connected arenas) to explore. While we were there, we ran into two Olympic Broadcast Service volunteers who we ended up befriending. They showed us around, got us behind-the-scenes and explained how covering events would work in the press tribunes and mixed zones. (And we ended up running into them again at the opening ceremony!) It was such a pleasant encounter and is one of my favorite memories from the whole Games.

We'd gone to that particular Carioca (3, I believe) because one of our group was going to be covering judo there in the next day or two. I ended up going with her to one of the afternoon judo sessions and got to see my first medal ceremony -- there were zero U.S. athletes involved and I still cried. I also watched a friend of mine from my Olympic Training Center days, Dartanyon Crockett, win bronze! It was so exciting! And, yes, I cried some more!

Carioca 2 was the site of one of my favorite bizarre, spontaneous Games memories. On this particular day, a coworker and I went for a walk in Olympic park on a slower morning, again to see the sights and explore (and shop for souvenirs, natch). What we didn't account for was the weather: it was 99 degrees (and humid) that day. We weren't out there for very long before we realized we were very far from the press center and very, very hot. Like, seek-shelter-before-we-pass-out hot. We tried to get into the aquatics arena, but the morning session had just ended and they turned us away. So we headed for the Cariocas, thinking that at least one of them would be open. Carioca 2 was our savior. We sat in the air conditioning, guzzled press-issued water bottles and watched some boccia. These athletes are some of the most severely disabled at the Games, and it was really cool to see people who could barely move without assistance compete with a high degree of skill.

And Carioca 1 was the site of wheelchair rugby, aka murderball, aka one of the more violent sports you'll see. It's like able-bodied rugby: guys just brutally collide with each other. It's nuts, and so cool. Our guys won silver in a double-overtime nail-biter on the final day of competition.

Also, the outside of the Cariocas gave you that quintessential Games vibe:

And from the inside, you got views like this:

Rio Olympic Arena

The second stop on our tour led by the OBS volunteers, the Olympic Arena hosted wheelchair basketball. There was a closed practice going on while we were there, so we weren't allowed to stay very long or see very much. But it was an ~exclusive~ tour, so I was still geeked out to the max. I love me an empty arena!

The Tennis Center

The tennis stadium was beautiful from the outside, but I never made it inside. The outer courts, though, hold a special place in my heart, as this was where I got to see my first Paralympic action in person!

The Futures Arena

Goalball! Guys, goalball was probably my favorite discovery of the Games. It's a sport played exclusively by visually-impaired athletes -- there's no able-bodied equivalent -- and it's just... so cool. I was blown away. It's rare for me to discover a new sport nowadays, so sitting down in the Futures Arena with no idea what to expect and having those nonexistent expectations blown clear out of the water was insanely fun!

The Aquatic Stadium

Embarrassing confession: I totally failed at swimming during Rio. There was so much of it, two sessions every single day, so I'd get busy with work and just tell myself I'd go see some swimming another day. I had plenty of time to see some swimming! But on the last day of competition it hit me that, crap, I had completely failed to see any swimming! That night I had my heart set on seeing the women's sitting volleyball gold-medal match, but a coworker and I went to swimming in the 15-minute window we had before volleyball. It was a truly pitiful effort on my part, but I'll never forget those slightly stressy 15 minutes. We were checking the time constantly and got to see Jessica Long finally win her first gold of the Games... and by "got to see it," I mean it was the last race we stayed for and we literally booked it from the arena while Jessica was still crying on the pool deck after her win. Better than nothing, right?

 ^ That's Jessica winning!

And the only picture I got of this building is from the back at the shuttle stop? Man. I'm sorry, swimming. I took you for granted.

Within Olympic park, I never made inside the velodrome or the Maria Lenk Aquatics Center (though that one wasn't in use during the Paralympics). But I'll include one more venue that was just down the road from the park.

Riocentro Pavilion

The home of sitting volleyball! I used to intern at USA Volleyball so I was beyond excited to get over to Riocentro and watch some sitting. I went at least twice: the first time, the U.S. women lost to reigning gold medalist China, 3-2; and the second time, the gold-medal match, the U.S. women crushed China 3-0 to win gold. That place was LOUD! And it was a temporary venue, so the stands would literally shake when the crowd got rowdy enough.

I'll never forget that gold-medal match. We all thought it would be a nail-biter, but the first two sets weren't even close. It was an utter blowout. My coworkers and I kept shooting each other stunned looks; we couldn't believe what we were seeing. It was easily one of the greatest sports experiences I've ever had.

 On Mondays, we wear green. ;)

And hey, y'know how I said we left swimming while Jessica Long was crying on the pool deck after she won gold? I was on Getty Images during the volleyball medal ceremony, and...


The Park

And finally, I couldn't leave out some scenes from within Olympic park itself! 

The first three pictures are from before the Games began, hence why it's so empty. Once the gates were open, it was crowded every day.

So don't let all the sad stories tell the whole story. Olympic park was beautiful and lively and it'll have a special place in my heart forever.

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