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Monday, July 30, 2007

Brazillions of Brazilians

Someone told Jan a slightly contrived George Bush joke before we came here: it was along the lines of Bush being told that three Brazilians had been lost in the war, to which Bush replied, “how much is a brazillion?” The joke comes to mind every time anyone mentions Brazilians, which is often, given our current surroundings. We skipped the closing ceremonies, having seen the opening ceremonies, which were impressive more than anything else for the more than one hundred thousand Brazilians that cheered, booed, and did the wave throughout the evening.

Friday night we opted for the authentic Rio experience rather than the touristy (and perhaps non-existent - I don't think our jumpers were there) party at the Hard Rock Café. Our trusty taxi driver Edmar, after giving us each a hand-made fridge magnet as a souvenir of our visit, dropped us off in the Samba-friendly neighbourhood called Lapa. We had an incredible evening of eating, drinking and absorbing the scene, which I have to say ranks up there with some of my most memorable cultural experiences. The street life was everywhere abundant: people dancing, live music inside and out, and guys walking around the sidewalks selling Tequila shots to anyone sick of Caipirinhas. We particularly enjoyed staring at the transvestite prostitutes, and bless their kinky little hearts, they appeared to enjoy our stares too.

The Globe ran a story on the jumpers' silver medal in the Saturday paper. It was posted on line so I took a peek. The writer managed to make the team sound whiny instead of happy about their medal, and there was more than a little bit of exaggeration: “came within a whisker of winning gold”…well actually it was quite a few whiskers in the end. The report also made Ian sound like he was blaming nothing but bad luck on our jumping faults, as if the poles rolled only for Canada, but stayed in the cups for everyone else. There was even a quote about the brush of a tail being enough to bring the jumps down. I can tell you that no rails fell from being touched by a tail, Canadian or otherwise. When we interviewed them only a few minutes before the Globe writer, the Canadians had expressed happiness in achieving the Olympic qualification, and they said they were fairly beaten by a very strong Brazilian team.

Last week we heard about the fracas at the softball. To make the field the Brazilians (see what I mean?) just slapped turf on top of concrete, with no drainage. When it rained it became a shallow swimming pool, taking a couple of days to dry out. It rained so much this last Saturday that they didn't just have to postpone games; by Saturday night it became clear that even if it stopped raining right then (and it didn't, it poured all night) the field would never drain in time for Sunday, the last day of the Games and the last day to give out medals. So they just gave out the medals based on current standings, without even completing the semi-finals. Fortunately for our show jumpers, more care and forethought went into the drainage of their ring and the footing was quite unhindered by the wet.

The first round for the individual was kinder - shorter and less technical - than the Nation's Cup on Friday. One rider from Colombia galloped up to the aqueduct wall jump, the horse stopped too late, knocked it down with his chest, then popped over the two foot high remains. It counted as a knock down, not a refusal!

Jill Henselwood had a “Special” day, becoming the first woman to win jumping gold at the Pan Ams since Anne Kursinski back in 1983. Captain Canada dropped a rail that had a silver medal attached to it, but Eric Lamaze finally had Hickstead tuned to his usual way-over-the-jumps style that earned bronze, behind Captain Brazil (I know, that's lame), Rodrigo Pessoa. My God you should have seen the mob scene when we came out of the press conference. One girl grabbed Rodrigo's arm so hard I thought she was going to break it.

The crowd in the jumping was relatively polite with little or no booing; but they still got too excited for their own riders, so there was lots of loud shushing going on during the Brazilian rounds. We watched US vs. Brazil volley ball on TV and the crowd was far from well behaved, booing and whistling every time an American was serving. It's definitely been a big story here, though the Argentinian photographer who snapped Waylon's ignominious moment told me he fears that the situation would be no different if the Pan Ams were in his country.

Ciao Brazil, Hola Argentina

Eighteen days have flown by, even if a few too many hours were spent on flying buses. It has been great fun to see Canada meet or exceed its goals in all three disciplines; it allows even a skeptic like me a little bit of optimism for the direction elite sport is headed in our country. We ate well, drank plenty, had some wonderful encounters with this fun-loving, hospitable culture, and didn't feel unwelcome or unsafe (barring the time spent in moving vehicles) the tiniest little bit.

I have filed all my press releases, all my articles, and I have thoroughly enjoyed blogging you with my take on these Pan Am Games. Now we are off to Buenos Aires to take the 'good air', drink some wine, eat meat and enjoy Tango culture in the land of the Gaucho. We may also freeze our asses off - it's winter down here and Buenos Aires had its first snow in 40 years last week - but I've been dying to go there for years, and it seems loco to be so close and not visit. Our holiday will not be a horse-interested one (I checked, there is not a single polo match in August!), so I will not be blogging our progress.
And besides, I need to spend some time living up to the name on our van back home: “No Work Team”.

Cheers everyone!

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