Sports Illustrated Staffers Give Their Early Impressions of Rio Olympics

August 6, 2016, 1:00 PM UTC

This piece originally appeared on

Bugs. Crime. Dirty water. The news out of Rio in the weeks leading up to the Games wasn’t good.

Are things in Rio really as bad as predicted? As SI staffers hit the ground ahead of the 2016 Olympics, they’ll be recording their impressions (bad or good) below.

Ben Eagle, Special Projects Editor | Aug. 4

I think Andrew Sharp and I are the only ones who have seen a mosquito in Rio. OK, maybe we’re not the only ones, but winter in Brazil is clearly not mosquito season.

That hasn’t diminished people’s fears. Waiting in line at accreditation I got the first whiff of what’s become a familiar smell: bug spray. It’s everywhere here—from the big bottles lining the shelves in the shop at the Main Press Centre to the packets in the hands of security people outside venues.

Even though I haven’t seen any skeeters, I’m still covering myself in repellent. Is it overkill considering we’ve barely seen any bugs? Better safe than sorry when it comes to Zika or dengue or Chikungunya.

Chris Chavez, writer | Aug. 3

The beauty of the Olympics is how it brings people together from around the world. I made a friend from Slovenia, who will be volunteering at badminton, and we talked all sports, including non-Olympic sports like [American] football. He says the sport is growing out there, and he’s actually a Green Bay Packers fan because of Aaron Rodgers. (I didn’t ask about the Bachelorette although now I’m curious if there’s a Slovenian version.) The funniest part of the whole conversation? The fact that he had zero idea what Deflategate was. It’s not totally surprising but coming from the U.S., it feels rare to come across a person that has never heard of the controversy surrounding the New England Patriots and PSI’s.

For more on Rio Olympics, watch this video:

Alexander Wolff, Senior Writer | Aug. 3


Alexander Wolff for SI Alexander Wolff for SI

First full day in Rio, swung by Vidigal, the favela that’s home to Todos Na Luta, the boxing club I wrote about in our preview issue. Just down the alleyway from the club, the home of popular local artist Wilson Alexandre has been razed. That’s the flip side of pacifying afavela, especially one so close to the beach: speculators cast an envious eye on a patch of land, and community treasures like Alexandre get priced out of the neighborhood.

Alexander Wolff for SI-1 Alexander Wolff for SI

Here’s one of Alexandre’s treasures, a bit of eye candy that lights up the alleyway. Can only hope it stays here even though he’s gone:

Grant Wahl, Senior Writer | Aug. 2

I’m not in Rio de Janeiro, but rather 275 miles north in Belo Horizonte covering the U.S. women’s soccer team. Here’s a selection of comments by friends to my social media posts announcing I’d made it to Brazil: “stay safe”; “got your hepatitis shots?”; “hope there isn’t price gouging on bug spray.” I’m not naïve, and I know from World Cup experience that Brazil has its dangers. But so far, at least, mosquitoes are nowhere to be found where I am. When it comes to Zika, I’d take Belo Horizonte in a heartbeat over, say, Miami right now.

Otherwise, my big early impressions on the ground are 1. laughing at myself for continuing to think if I speak in Spanish that Portuguese-speaking Brazilians will understand me (they don’t, you dummy), and 2. singing the praises of the Uber and Easy Taxi apps. I spent five weeks in Brazil during World Cup 2014 and didn’t use them a single time. On my first day at the Olympics I used them six times.

Wolff | Aug. 2

Only a few airports in the world qualify as “lily pads,” little patches of tarmac breathtakingly close to iconic downtowns. Toronto City and Reagan National both qualify, as did Hong Kong’s late, great Kai Tak. Add Rio’s domestic field, Santos Dumont, to that list. That’s Sugar Loaf looming over the gates as we rolled up to the jet bridge this afternoon. And SDU features the additional virtue of not requiring use of the traffic-clogged, carjacker bait main highway to reach the heart of the city.

Alexander Wolff for SI-2 Alexander Wolff for SI

My maiden flight into Santos Dumont was so memorable that for the Olympic fortnight I’m going to suspend all I’ve been taught about the Wright Brothers and Kitty Hawk and who invented flight. As any Brazilian school child will tell you, it was the airport’s namesake.

Chavez | Aug. 2

It’s been more than 24 hours for me in Rio de Janeiro and nothing bad has happened yet. That’s not to say anything bad won’t happen but it’s early and Brazil is starting to grow on me.

Some thoughts on the issues that may help put my mom at ease at home, if she reads this:

• While leaving Galeão International Airport, I couldn’t help but notice the drawings and paintings along the side of the highway. Some may have been put up to maybe block out some of the struggling communities that were behind them but the decoration was a nice touch. That is until someone either chose to graffiti or throw a rock through many of them. The Olympics are here and some may not be as up for the fun and games.

• I have yet to see or get bitten by a mosquito and that’s even after I went for a run along Copacabana beach on Tuesday morning. The air pollution and humidity made it a little difficult to breath but I’d rather take in the view than stare at the wall on a treadmill for an hour. I will admit to waking up a few times in the morning thinking that there may have been one on my arm or face but it was all in my head.

• On Monday night, I went for a walk with two cousins that were in town from Colombia as volunteers for tennis and we passed several of the venues and highways, it’s clear that Rio rushed to reach its deadline for these games. The colorful views from its renderings in the host city pitch may not actually come into fruition. After passing through security, there’s not much that meets the eye with the media center.

• I took a trip up to Sugarloaf Mountain and while you can spot some favelas and rough patches from the top view, this is truly a beautiful city and I’m looking forward to seeing more of it as we go along.

Lee Feiner, Video Producer | July 31

One of my favorite quirks of covering the Olympics is the connecting flight to the host city. On this plane from São Paulo to Rio are fans, media, and athletes from all over the world. The small talk in a dozen languages is electric. The eye rolls and sighs for poor flying etiquette is universal.