Current Events

Rio’s Scrappy Grit

When it comes to leggy Brazilian models turning heads at the Rio Olympics, Gisele Bundchen’s opening ceremony catwalk was hard to top. That said, there was another model who stole the show on Friday with a raw reminder of why we have these games in the first place. This one.

Adriana Lima

The truth is, I wasn’t planning to write about the Olympics. Between near-daily reports of zika, polluted water, shoddy infrastructure, corruption, and gang violence, they seemed irredeemable and, well, I was struggling to come up with anything positive to say.

But this image of Adriana Lima carrying the torch changed my mind. Yes, it’s only one of a million photos taken in Rio thus far but – if you look – you can’t help but be moved by its demonstration that all the world’s problems can disappear, if only for a moment.

Actually, in thinking of a more local comparison to the euphoric, dancing-in-the-streets pride of Brazil during the opening ceremony, I thought of Kerri Strug from back in 1996. Do you remember that? Remember when Strug hurt her ankle but – in order for the US to win gold against the Russians – she had to vault one more time?

Oh, the drama. The whole planet appeared to hold its breath while Strug limped to the mat, then landed her vault on ONE leg before collapsing in front of the judges.

My God. I was 19 years old at the time and never understood what the Olympics meant until then.

No doubt there are many in Brazil and around the world who are feeling the same way now – and that’s why the games go on. We say it’s about perfection – perfect athletes and perfect scores – but ultimately it’s the grit that inspires us most.

These days, it’s the grit required for a band of refugees – who have seen horrors we will never know – to come together and compete as a team.

The grit required for Afghans and South Sudanese and so many others to continue to train and show up on behalf of their war-ravaged nations.

The grit required for Saudi women, notoriously sidelined at home, to arrive in Rio and know what it feels like to be powerful.

It’s unbelievably messy but it’s a beautiful mess just the same. And somewhere in the middle of the chaos is a reminder that it’s not so much what the Olympics are that matters but, rather, what they represent.

That no matter what, for two weeks every two years – regardless of our politics and even if the host country’s president is impeached – we will still come together for this.

As a global community, we obviously don’t always get it right, but I love that we are crazy and idealist enough to keep trying.

Viva Rio.