São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have completely different atmospheres in their cities: São Paulo being very professional and business-like, and Rio being very laid back with a beach vibe. However, after witnessing the Olympic Torch viewing last Friday morning in Rio, I’m not entirely convinced that the reputation given is accurate.
São Paulo had a torch-viewing experience similar to what I expected — except the big trucks with speakers: I didn’t see that one coming. Given the nature of the atmosphere that is found in São Paulo, I expected security around the Olympic Torch to be pretty tight. Boy was I wrong. In São Paulo, people were allowed to go up and take selfies with the torchbearer as well as touch the Olympic Torch! Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of those lucky people. At one point, the torchbearer was way behind security, but no one seemed to think of this as a problem. There wasn’t tight security, and for the specific viewing that I attended, there wasn’t a single problem. People got the experience they wanted as well as the photos and selfies to last a lifetime.
A week and a half later, I found myself in Copacabana at the same time that the torch was passing through. After seeing five military vehicles pass, I stepped to the side to observe as I thought there was something else going on given the amount of military personnel. As the vehicles with the loud speakers and dancers came closer, I saw a small flame in the distance. However, that is not what caught my attention. I don’t remember the torch passing because my eyes were glued to the police officers surrounding the torchbearer. There were no fans; there were no selfies being taken; in fact, there were only police officers and military around the torchbearer. My initial thought was that the torchbearer was someone of great importance. But after asking several surrounding Brazilians, no one could tell me who the man in the middle was, so he was clearly not someone who was very well-known. The formation around the torchbearer was every police officer had their hands on the shoulder of the officer in front of them, and their other hand was in the ready position on their gun on the right hip. It was almost as if they were predicting something was going to happen at the torch viewing.
But the torch viewing went very smoothly and nothing happened. However, it wasn’t as free as the São Paulo viewing, and people couldn’t go up and talk to the torchbearer and get photos with the torch. I know that the Rio torch viewing happened on the same day as Opening Ceremony, but the security is a complete 180, and this wasn’t something that I expected. I did expect a slight increase of military personnel, but to not even allow people to experience the full torch viewing was something that I didn’t see coming.
Reilly Small is a Ball State University student and writer for BSU at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and BSU at the Games on Facebook.