SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 16, September 2016 - Page 106

with it were concerned with achieving the same goal for Brazil. If a more negative tone among locals dominated conversation prior, it was not their main point of discussion during the Games. These were people who wanted visitors to see the moniker "the Marvelous City" - Rio's nickname - is truly deserved. Discussions at the bar, the beach, and varying Olympic events defined the city and the country; and it was these experiences that infused a sense of unity. With the 2016 Games also being the first in South America, there was a sense of validation and value about Brazilian and Latin culture represented on a global scale.

Generally, the phrase "citizen of the world" is thrown around when people discuss how they identify in relation to humanity; but at the Games, that identification actually works on multiple levels. Normally, event tickets are purchased months in advance without knowing who is competing. While the goal is to see your country’s athletes, it might be you don't have a dog in the fight. It doesn’t matter. Once you’re present, the crowds are enough to get you cheering for a country not even on your bucket list. Next thing you know, a countryman (or woman) from that nation has bought you a beer, and you’re being invited to dinner. If the host country is playing, you can't help smile and cheer with the locals, no longer opponents but friends. Granted, you secretly wish they make an error so your athletes win, but you're excited for them and you're excited with them. It's rare anyone leaves a venue actually upset over a loss. The spirit of the Games nullifies any negative sentiment. You're attending events with others who have traveled for the same reason watching the greatest athletes in the world. The glass is half full, if not overfilled.

On another level, it’s inspiring to see how little citizenship matters. It’s one thing to travel to different countries and have your nationality be your main identifier, but not here. That's not to say you aren’t super patriotic while cheering your country, but once you leave the stadiums and go out for dinner, you're not rooting for anyone. You're an outsider enjoying a foreign land, but so is everyone else. As you meet locals or people from other countries, knowing where someone calls home is secondary to enjoying the time you experience with them. You get to know their stories and interests; you see pictures of events you were unable to attend because your newest friend got “the perfect shot.” You connect on a level not afforded at other events. Try connecting at some intense rivalries in professional sports and you might be booed out of the stands or outright ignored at a bar. You watch highlights, talk about how you were there, and how it was such an incredible experience. You listen to the account told by the guy who was front-row for Usain Bolt's latest win, hanging onto his every word. It's the triumph of the human spirit that permeates throughout the Games and the city, whether it is at a venue or at the bar. There are no rules of conduct for attending the Games – you don’t have to act a certain way; you don’t need to do certain things; anyone can go. But you celebrate – celebrate the athletes, celebrate your new connections, celebrate the shared values that bring you together.

It’s interesting how much the athletes facilitate this solidarity. The drama and tension during certain events, such as gymnastics and swimming, is palpable. This past year at the Women's Individual All-around final, Brazilian gymnast, Jade Barbosa, suffered an injury to her ankle early in the competition. Though she tried to continue, reality set in, and she fell to the floor in tears. You could tell how much pain she was feeling in a literal sense, while also realizing her bid for Olympic greatness was over. Escorted by her coaches, Barbosa left the competition in a wheelchair as the crowd cheered “Bra-zil, Bra-zil.” But here’s what makes the Olympics unique. What might amount to empathy at other events, the sadness of the situation was felt by all in attendance. The tears on Barbosa’s face, enlarged by the jumbotron, were not exclusive to her. Everyone witnessed an athlete's dream fall to the wayside; a dream everyone knew was part of a difficult road. To say the venue was not the slightest choked up or misty-eyed would be a lie; as native Brazilian’s chanted “Bra-zil,” so did supporters of other nations. It might sound cliché, but the turn of events allowed us all to be Brazilians for a moment.

Along those lines, how many viewers at home celebrated Brazil's gold medal in soccer? How many of them were actual Brazilians? Take that energy and imagine what it was like to hear the bars of Ipanema Beach, filled with Brazilians and non-Brazilians alike, roar with excitement for that final goal. Brazil won and everyone celebrated. Many news outlets also reported on the selfie taken by the South Korean and North Korean female gymnasts – an act arguably defiant, but one that never would have happened outside of the Games. While attending a Greco-Roman wrestling match, I found my own political viewpoints taking a back seat as a group of Iranian enthusiasts proudly displayed their flag and fervently chanted for their wrestler two rows behind me and another group of US travelers. Admittedly, it’s hard to imagine a setting in which US citizens are entranced by Iranian enthusiasm, but you couldn’t fault someone for wanting to cheer along with such zeal. If there was an issue, it wasn’t known. These are the unifying moments you can’t replicate outside of the Olympics and that underscore how much more we have in common, even if we’ve forgotten that.

Lastly, the various hospitality houses set up by different countries add to this appreciation of world unity. While some are not open to the public, most allow visitors and offer a chance to experience the Games from that country's perspective. Typical foods from that country can be purchased as well as drinks (and the beer flows at many of these places). After you’ve settled with a meal and a beverage, you’ll notice the same enthusiasm represented by different colors. In Rio, one was able to grab a beer on the beach at the German house, dinner at the Holland House, and dance the night away at the Austrian house. Wherever you are, the celebration of the Games, the athletes, and the supporters never diminishes.

The Olympics are invaluable. In the two weeks they take place, borders disappear. The current climate of the world, volatile or not, fades. That's not to say significant national, world, or cultural events are ignored, but the sense that we are all part of that same globe pervades. Much of what divides us is rarely seen. Never will you see so many different flags raised during medal ceremonies, and watch as the entire crowd stands up out of respect and admiration for the triumphant athletes as their national anthem plays. Those in attendance are integrated into one area, willing to cheer on and meet others from different parts of the world. The Olympic Games demonstrate an attainable camaraderie and underline the notion that we actually are “citizens of the world.”