Row, row, row your boat, quickly for the team. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, don’t run out of steam.
I was lucky enough to spend 24 hours in Rio during the 2016 Olympics, so I went to see some rowing at the Lagoa Stadium.
We bought tickets the night before from a booth outside the Copacabana beach volleyball stadium, beach volleyball being what we’d most wanted to see, but it was sold out. Instead, we picked rowing. $30 USD for 4 hours entertainment, which seemed more than reasonable.
The ticket booth had signs saying “we only accept Visa”. I get that Visa is one of the biggest sponsors but not accepting other cards is just plain mean. What if McDonald’s, another official partner/sponsor, insisted that only Big Macs and McNuggets could be sold within Olympic venues? What if Crocs were the official footwear sponsor of the Olympics and all athletes had to race wearing Crocs. Where does it end???
The next morning we took a taxi to the venue itself, Lagoa Stadium on Lagoa Lake. The taxi driver drove right past the entrance, around a few more corners, then let us out to walk back half a mile. Maybe all taxi drivers have been told to drop all spectators half a mile from their destination during the Olympics so they get some exercise. They’re training the next generation of elite athletes.
At one end of the venue you can stand near the finish line closest to where the rowers finish. Here you’re close enough to see moments of euphoria as a lifetime of training pays off, or more often the crushing disappointment as you realize that despite your best efforts you still failed, a feeling I know all too well when I’m in bed and I try really, really hard but the remote is just out of reach and I have to stay lying there watching the ad break. It sucks.
The main stadium itself is a temporary metal structure that wobbled a bit too much for my liking when you walked on it. Thankfully, to assuage my fears, the seats were never more than half filled while we were there. That emptiness seems a shame, given that this is the Olympics and these are world class athletes, but I suppose there just aren’t that many people that want to watch Vanuatu in an early heat in rowing.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the races, but they aren’t the most exciting. The race starts way out of view. You only start seeing the competitors halfway through each race and in most cases, by this point the race isn’t even close. One person is generally comfortably winning, others are spaced out too, and Kazakhstan already capsized a long time ago. You can watch the latter in multiple replays on the big screen though. Poor Kazakhstan.
We watched multiple types of races. Men’s single sculls, men’s 8, women’s double sculls, and lots of repêchage, so now I know what a repêchage is and how to pronounce it. For etymology-enthusiasts, repêchage comes from the French for “fishing out” so I think maybe Kazakhstan just didn’t understand the rules.
The problem with all of this is that these races were only heats and qualifying rounds. I haven’t the slightest idea if any of the people we saw went on to win medals. It felt like leaving a movie that seems like it’s going to get good halfway through but you have to leave and look up the rest of the plot later on Wikipedia.
We left knowing some of the people who made it to the next round, knowing some others that had to compete in a kind of play-off, and really, really wishing we could spend longer in Rio so we could watch more Olympics.
P.S. I really should’ve managed to write this before the end of the Olympics. Now no one cares and I might as well be writing about the latest international croquet tournament.