The Rio Olympics

26 11 2016

We are all familiar with the famous Bolt, Phelps and others, but my hat goes off when Ethiopian Almaz Ayana smashed the world 10,000m record (usually expressed in 100ths of second) by more than a full 14-seconds!! Then there is Richard Whitehead with no lower legs who ran 40 marathons on 40 days, then got a gold medal in the 100m!!!!!Another golden-Brit climbed onto a table tennis table… and also earned a yellow card for misbehaviour.  Athletes just a few feet tall had the coolest fashion – huge navy blue greatcoats en route to the swimming pool. Ms. Cox broke 2 world records in two sports, cycle & 400m track. Plus 3 other world records

Largely unknown today but just before the Mexican Olympics (1968) the president there ordered the gunning down of hundreds in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. The criminal parked in a spot reserved for police, no trouble for him. He took me to a cantina for a drink. I met this criminal guy in one of the seedy pueblos, who was in the plaza at the time. Famed Italian journalist was another. She was shot “just where I wanted it,” as she put it. We got to be talking and I moaned about my evening in the scarcely credible jail where I was all but forced by the urgent need to get a drip or two onto my boiling head. Rusty bed springs marked the backs of the guards who lay about there on bedsprings, under clouds of mosquitos. He looked into my eyes. “So, you think the jail here is bad erhh? “Well, after the massacre” I was put into a military prison and the smashed this hand, (he showed me) with the butt of a revolver. Even when it began to stink they brought no doctor.” Today, I cannot go into a lift. Because, you know, if it gets stuck, I will kill everybody inside.” I don’t know why I tell you all this… probably because I will never see you again in my life. I never did.

The big ticket modern Olympics owes a debt to the murderous sicko Nazi and Munich, which was not won by legendary Jesse Owens, but by the scum of Nazi Germany. The PR angle worked!

Watching the Para Olympics has reminded me of some of the Olympians I have known over the years.

One of the great friends of my life was Colonel Vaughan, who lived to be 100, plus 18-hours. Norman had been pretty much everything, including an Olympian. (Lake Placid, 1934) of which he was the last survivor, and represented the USA in the only time they did dog racing. One evening we were sitting in a bar ‘The Fletcher Christian’ in the Alaskan city named by Captain Cook — Anchorage. Of all people to walk through the door was another great American, Eddy Mack. Eddy was born in Chicago with a Polish name, which he changed because he’d been shot 3-times whist growing up in the Windy City. From such a start Eddy went to the Rome Olympics (1960) where his roommate was ‘like the mayor of Olympic village’ – Cassius Clay. Like his friend the Greatest he too won a boxing medal, never mind his hand being broken. “I could (and did) beat that Russian,” he said. Eddy went pro and became an undefeated world champion, with 3 defences.

Dr Willy Banks also represented the USA and in a gold medal winning performance broke the world record in triple jump. He spoke of his friend Carl Lewis who had a dozen Olympic gold medals, but no world record. That was not until the long jump (Seoul) when he broke the legendry leap of Bob Beaman in Mexico. Willy, explained that “You almost got to die to get a world record.” I think that is right. The triple jump is so dangerous that his training never touched it, and then only on the day. When we met he’d just won in Japan the Totto porcelain company games. “Did you get a toilet?” I asked. “Well, actually NO!”

Remarkable Americans all! In UK I was with the family going to do some TV in Maidstone, Kent. The driver had been an outstanding runner, but had smashed his legs in the run-up to Mexico. (1968) But his friend David Emmery won the gold medal 400m hurdles. “He was thinking of me,” the taxi driver wistfully said. “When he broke the tape.”

I was invited to the Savoy Hotel, London. There via a link with the Los Angeles Olympics was the double Olympic Decathlon champion, Daly Thompson. “George deserves it more,” he said. I was never in such an august group again. That was it.

At an age similar to the athletes I had arrived in Rio myself, through the front door – via a ship. So inspired was I by Rio that I ran from the ship all the way up to the giant Christo towering above this most beautiful of all cities.

Just recently I had circumnavigated the Amazon basin. I needed to confirm the destruction of indigenous culture, first-hand. I had used the river system and an alcohol delivery long canoe to reach Iquitos, Peru. There I re-joined Augusto who had first met as a boy in Lima over 30.years before!! I also knew at the time his cousin Raul, who now lived in Manaus, Brazil, so off I toddled. This entailed a trip into Colombia and one of the steamers. I was set to go for 1:00pm. BUT Brazil had different clocks and frantically I raced across the loose planks to the floating jetty only to see the puff of smoke on the horizon. There was no option but to wait a whole month in this jungle hell hole or perhaps. A canoe. A speedboat

I remembered form my sea-days, when as a young man I’d sailed into the port of Rio de Janerio, and at an age (24) comparable to the sporting heroes of today. Back then, full of beans, I ran from the ship up to the Christo towering above us.

Just last year (2015) I had been in Brazil aboard a river Amazon steamer, that a part of a circumnavigation of the Amazon River basin. To get to Brazil I must first reach Columbia, and was taken across the border looking for a streamer onwards. I saw it. It had sailed and was visible, puffing on the horizon?!! Brazil-time was one hour ahead of Colombia! No option, I would be trapped up here, possibly for months. The only option was a speedboat, also about to head down river. The speedboat did not catch-up the boat until the steamer was preparing to leave the riverside shacks. Heart in mouth I leapt clear and was humping my big red rucksack over river rocks on the edge of cloying mud flats. It was going to be very, very close and very, very iffy. I persevered in the thunderous tropical heat and managed to dump my kit on the already rising gangway- just, just… I handed over some Colombian cash and breathed the air off having made it.

I left Ecuador and boarded a large river canoe to reach Iquitos in Peru. I stayed with Augusto, whom I’d known as a boy. Later I was with another friend from 30-years Raul, who lived today in Manaus and held the spirit of Brazil. It was a hot and sticky evening but I was cooled by the forward motion of the motorbike. The old Indian had arrived in the city about the time I was born. Up and down rutted hills and all about the inland port to the famous Opera house where had sung great Sarah Bernhardt. On we went to the university and students played the Girl of Ipanima … but by mass violin!!

The Para Olympics opening ceremony at Rio was the greatest public display of the human spirit I’ve ever seen. Where the elite athletes shone. And this is the Olympics which generated virtually no ‘good press’ became a Triumph for Brazil.

Tickets were being sold at a huge prices, unrelated to the Brazilian reality, but they fixed and brought in a full house, to exceed the take of the vaulted Summer Olympics.




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