by Jeff Lambert
If only I had contracted Zika. Then my Olympics experience would have been complete. I would have been the only victim, the winner of the golden ticket (or gold medal?), and would be fresh off an exhaustive tour of national morning shows and political and sports radio debates; become an Internet sensation; been on the cover of at least 42 of the top 50 newspapers in America as well as few hundred worldwide; and spawned numerous nicknames and hashtags – #Brazika, #OlympicCold, #ZikaGate, #RioDeMosquito
Instead, I simply had a world-record-smashing, crowd-pleasing, sun-soaked, hospitality-drenched and Christ-the-Redeemer-blessed good time. I looked danger in the face and jumped, and I landed in a country much maligned and frustrated by it. I was asked more about my concerns going to the Olympics than about my epic experience coming from it, and on behalf of all of America, I want to apologize. Brazil, you crushed it. I experienced eight days of an event so spectacular that it’s only sanctioned to happen every four years, and Brazil was a champion host.
Taking my three teenage kids to the Olympics was a dream come true for me and I suspect for them, though they’d never admit it. I wanted to BE an Olympian growing up. Who doesn’t?! (And I haven’t given up the dream, though will be switching sports from my collegiate specialty of swimming to the more attainable Full Contact Water Basketball, set to debut in 2024.) The Olympics are iconic and celebrated and perhaps the one thing that the world can join forces on. Yet, preparing to attend, I was bombarded by stories of peril – “Pick-pockets are everywhere. Don’t look American or wear U.S. brands. Zika kills! Why would you bring your kids? Are you worried about your daughter having babies? Is your life insurance up to date? Better yet, do you have kidnapping insurance? I heard the water is like swimming in raw sewage! None of the venues are going to be done. It’s going to be a disaster!”
I experienced none of the aforementioned perils, but did enjoy a city in Rio de Janeiro that was as beautiful as it was peaceful. Mountains overlooking oceans (which I swam in), beaches flooded with active, athletic Brazilians of every age, food that was excellent and approachable, traffic indicative of a bustling city, and people – Brazillians – that were welcoming despite the worldwide insults and undermining rumors. One of my favorite perception-reality-dichotomy moments? Whenever U.S. men’s beach volleyball star and former Gold medalist Phil Dalhausser prepared to serve, the predominantly Brazilian crowd would build up to a crescendo timed to his serve with a Brazilian chorus of “ahhhhhhhhhhhh… Zika!!” (For my college basketball and Michigan State friends in particular, think of the cheer the crowd does when an opposing player fouls out and “Zika” is replaced with “See ya!”)
It was a sarcastic jab at an American superstar, as if to say “we’re gonna getcha with the Zika.” My kids and I found it equally hilarious and catchy, and the U.S. team’s loss to Brazil in the semi-finals was its ultimate affirmation.
So, don’t believe the hype and filter out the uniformed. Root for the underdog and believe in the Olympic spirit. And if you ever have the opportunity to attend the greatest event in sports, take it! #Braziliant #RioGold
Jeff Lambert is the president and managing partner of Lambert