I have landed. That was a really long flight. At the passport control my passport got a shiny new Olympic logo-shaped stamp. Seems like I have arrived to Brazil after all: airports are too universal of a setting to tell them apart.
But then it all changed: I have spotted the first volunteer in a bright yellow t-shirt. A warm feeling passed down my throat. He was familiar and unknown to me at the same time. A perfect stranger and an old mate. Those are my third games: I have been here already, just in different circumstances, on the other side of the globe. I felt immediately at home.
Olympics is a weird event for a purely rational mind: year after year the same federations organise world and regional championships featuring the same athletes, the same judges and often same venues (as part of the test events).
But who needs those championships?
No-one, that’s who.
But once in four years stakes go sky-high as everyone watches all the sports they never gave a damn about since the last Games.
But who has that rational mind? No-one, that’s who. Sport appeals to our instincts, not logic. Otherwise millions would not buy into it.
But we are humans; we buy into it with pleasure.
It is hard to find someone more sceptical about the Olympics than i am. The real winners there, it seems for me, are the airlines, broadcasters, beverage producers and Chinese sweatshops producing cheap logo-stamped rubbish. In my eyes it is above all a feat of nationalism, doping and trans-national companies.
But as we know it is not winning that counts, but taking part. So here I am. It is not the sport that attracts me here, but the humanity. The planet of humans.
When the human race gets together to make the biggest party on earth, you can guarantee the worst and the best in us will come without warning.
Olympics are on the same planet as we are. So are lies, treachery, tears, power, envy and challenge.
So are love, devotion, courage, selflessness, the whole life and one split of a second.
Olympics is a way to the world as we find it, not as we wish it was. A crack in the wall of other people’s lives: for two weeks you can peek in as much as you want.
There are athletes, some are very humble, socially awkward, some tough, impatient go-getters – very unlike the corky inspirational portraits the TV like to give us. Here you can see their real sweat, their unconscious gestures. Those are not the billboard faces from the side if the road – but humans of flesh.
I remember taking an athlete to the doping control station. In the final standoff she lost to a Chinese. The doping control station is a waiting room with a line of chairs and a backroom with a doctor. The athlete was drinking water to get on with the test and received non-stop calls from friends. “Have you seen how I lost? – she would say, – so silly”. She smiled apologetically to the unseen person every time, “well, what can you do, things happen. Thank you! And same to you!” I will never forget the soft and helpless tone of her coach that I accidentally overheard when we already parted ways: “please, just don’t cry. I hate when you cry. Please don’t cry!”
The other athlete never trusted me to translate her words to journalists. No, as limited as her English was, she will do it herself. She will say it herself; will look at me sternly and coldly. So what that she can only express very basic things, at least no-one will twist her words.
Or another athlete, who met each new journalist with an almost childish, soft smile. He got used to this repetitive drill, to the same questions “got to do what we have to do”. By his gentle attire you would not say he only needs one blow to knock down each of us on the room if he wanted to
There are journalists, some fake, who would look through you, they would not acknowledge your existence even after spending two weeks side by side within five meters from you. They change completely when the cameras roll, illuminate with enthusiasm after a monotonous competition day. Some are professional to their fingertips; they know their duty, only their duty. Being polite and professional is a second nature. They ask to translate, let faux pas go easily and give rushed thanks when things go well. For a volunteer being here is an experience – for them it is a routine.
There is Olympic Family, some dismissive, stressed and others unrealistically friendly, approachable, shaking hands with everyone, giving out pins. You only spot them out from the crowd because you’ve seen the portrait in a press kit or because your managers are suddenly start frantically running around.
And finally, there are volunteers and management.
We appear in each other’s’ lives but for a few lines, we are not even the secondary actors. I love that short-lived casual camaraderie: in the cafeteria, on the bus, in a check-in line. Our eyes meet; we say hi and declare our names. We just announce our backgrounds, what we do where we live and then the spotlight that illuminates us from the crowd switches off and we evaporate into the Rio sun, vanish behind Rio mountains.
In fantasy books characters venture into unknown lands to find some completely different creatures there. They find pixies, elves, dwarfs, an alien way of life, different as those on other planets.
But here on Earth wherever you go you will only find humans.
Annoying, stupid, inspirational, touching, intriguing, almost always tired, almost always challenging each other, be it Olympics or not. Olympics just accent everything.
To be here is not the same as watch it there on TV.
There – people are divided into “us” and “them”, under a different flag, inside a different skin colour.
But here it is difficult to separate: each has the same emotions, same tenacity. TV transmission does not allow the main attraction of the Olympics – to rub shoulders with humans from across the globe in a queue, to share their joy, dance under their flag listening to incomprehensible local song from their smartphone, to exchange opinions and counterfeit pins on the midnight bus.
You get involved easily here. You sympathise with everyone.
Those are humans, aren’t they?
Here on Earth wherever you go, you will only find yourself.
Living our small lives, surrounding ourselves with friends similar to us, it is easy to start believing that the whole world is a bit like you, reasons like you, feels like you.
At the Olympics you feel how small your world is.
You are small.
You know not a lot nor of yourself, nor of your neighbour.
Will you ever know more?
Even if you do, it will not be enough.
I would love to thank my employer Mercury Publicity and my management Mick Hersant and Richard Lower for providing me with this excellent opportunity and letting once again explore the world to better understand it.
I would like to thank my manager in Rio, Katia Barros, for being such a helpful and loyal manager and a thoughtful lunch companion.
I would like to remember each person I have met throuout those two week, for they all have chipped in for the overall experience. I am very greatful.