Western New England University sport management students and faculty traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Junior Erika Sheinhait of the women's swimming team shared her experiences from the last few days of the trip with her third blog post. Be sure to check out the photo gallery below as well - all photos were taken by Erika.
Like I said in the last post, Thursday was the day I was looking forward to the most. Half the group went to table tennis, and the other half went to beach volleyball. As mentioned earlier, I went to table tennis, and it lived up to, if not exceeded, my expectations. The session we attended was men's singles semifinals, meaning we saw two matches. The winner of each would go on to the gold medal match while the losers would play for bronze later that night. The first match was Ma Long of China vs. Jun Mitzitani of Japan. The second was Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus vs. Jike Zheng of China. Both Chinese players won their respective matches, but the games were so intense. Some rallies would get really exciting as each player was able to react fast enough and alter the direction of spin of the ball in a split second, and the crowd would react the way you would expect. We also had front row seats so the view was very good from our perspective. In addition to all of the excitement, we got to meet USA Olympian and table tennis player, Timothy Wang. He signed our tickets and agreed to take some pictures with us. It was definitely one of the more special moments on this trip. After the two matches, we met up with the beach volleyball crew to spend a couple hours at Copacabana Beach again. This time, we just walked around on the soft sand and dipped our feet in the water. We also got to see the famous sand castles built along the walkways. They are very detailed and this one really put on display the city of Rio and the Olympic Games.
Friday was the day of our last Olympic events. It began a little wet, but luckily I was inside for men's team foil (fencing) back at Olympic Park. The other half of the group went to opening day of athletics at Olympic Stadium. There, they witnessed Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia break the world record in the 10,000m by 14 seconds. They all said it was very cool how the entire crowd got behind her, knowing she was on pace to break it. Anyways, at fencing, we watched 2 of the 4 matches going on. The setup had it so two separate matches were occurring at the same time. The first we watched was China vs. Brazil. There were a lot of fans there for Brazil. China commanded basically the entire match, but at the end, Brazil almost made up a large deficit (15 points, I believe), but time expired, so China won 43-41. The final round, Brazil scored 12 compared to China's 3. The end was quite exciting to watch. The crowd still loves the effort despite coming up short. Spending the first match trying to figure out the way fencing works, especially in the team scenario, I was now ready for the second match. The second match featured Russia vs. USA. Clearly, we had a favorite in this one. This match was back and forth and the US made up two separate 8-point deficits and entered the final round leading by one. Unfortunately, this one slipped away and Russia won to move on to the gold medal match. The US went on to win bronze later that day. This experience gave me a new appreciation for fencing and a new sport to watch at home.
After our events, we went for a visit to the Japan House, which put on display their preparations for Tokyo 2020. From what I can tell, Japan is planning an incredible Olympic Games. We got to meet the president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, Tsunekazu Takeda, and their director of international relations. We were given a VIP tour and after treated to a VIP meal. The food was delicious, but I have also never felt so important in my life. Their hospitality and the welcoming nature made the experience one that I will never forget. It is also a reason why, in my opinion, Tokyo 2020 will be so successful.
Saturday, our final full day in Brazil, was spent in Petropolis (the city of Pedro). For those who do not know, Dom Pedro and his son Dom Pedro II were emperors of Brazil when Brazil was still under Portuguese rule. This city is on top of a mountain, and it is quite beautiful. The architectural style is much different than the rest of Brazil, having more of a European feel due to its history. Our first stop there was a former hotel and casino. It was high class and we enjoyed being able to sit on the grass by the water, something that was pretty uncommon in Rio. The next stop was the Imperial Museum, which is the former palace of the royal family now turned into a museum. As you would expect from a palace, the architecture is magnificent and everything is so elegantly done. We were also required to put slippers over our shoes to protect the floors. The best part too is that the outside of the palace is pink. It fits into Petropolis because of all of the colorful buildings in the city.
We then made a quick stop for a delicious lunch at an all-you-can-eat buffet before going to the Cathedral of São Pedro. Having not been in many churches in my lifetime, I enjoy being able to see the structural style and art all around it. The stain glass windows were gorgeous, and the stone work at the pulpit was something I could stare at for hours and still find new details. Churches like this make me appreciate ancient architecture because the style is simply beautiful. We finished the day in Petropolis with a visit to Bohemia brewery. This is the first brewery I have ever been in to (because the drinking age in Brazil allows me to go into this one). We walked around and got samples of 3 of their beers. While everything was in Portuguese, I found ease in reading and understanding most of the signs throughout the tour describing their products and processes. This is proof of that spending time encapsulated in the culture and language will help you learn it, even in 10 days. We then left for a 3.5 hour bus ride back to the hotel.
Sunday, our last day in Rio, I finally decided to go on the 5:45 am run with our professors and some of the students. We ran up and down the hills ending at the shore of the beach until we turned around and went back the same route. Even though it was early, I was glad I did it once on this trip. I began to regret the run a little later when I found out of plan for the day was a hike. The thing though, is that this hike was straight up nearly the whole way. It was probably the most exhausting hike I have ever done, and I have done hikes in 100+ degree weather before. On the way up we saw some baby monkeys hanging out in the trees. At the top, there was a great view of the mountains and the water. There is also a famous cliff where many take pictures because it looks like you are hanging off a cliff. The line to take a photo there was very long, so I did not wait. but others in my group got some pretty cool pictures. After, we went back down the mountain the way we came. As hard as it was going up, it was harder going down because getting a grip on the ground was difficult in some areas. I fell and slid down a couple of feet at one point. We were joking on getting the top of trash barrels and sliding down to the bottom on them. Almost everyone felt the consequence of losing their footing at some point. All in all, it made for some lasting memories.
We left for the airport Sunday night, and with tears in my eyes, we said goodbye to our most amazing tour guide, Rodrigo, and the best driver in the world, the actual MVP, Chico. It's been 12 hours since then but I feel like I'm still there. I cried nearly the whole way to the airport because of how amazing this trip has been and how I didn't want it to end. I bought my final Olympics souvenirs at the airport (stuffed animals of the Olympic and Paralympic mascots) and got on the plane. It took all of 10 minutes for me to fall asleep on the plane. as the exhaustion from lack of sleep the past week and a half had finally kicked in. I slept nearly 8 hours (the flight was 9 hours) as I struggle to stay awake to watch athletics on the plane. I was able to pull through to see Usain Bolt win gold again in the 100m!
Since we've landed early this morning, it still doesn't feel like I'm back in the US, but I'm sure it will hit me when I get home. This trip is one that has changed my life, and I am so thankful for the opportunity. I would do anything to do it again (maybe a Tokyo 2020 reunion?). With that said, obrigada pelas memórias, Rio. Espero estar de volta em breve...