Olympic Torch Arrives in Brazil
While preparations for the Rio 2016 Olympics have been ongoing for years, for many the official start of “Olympic fever” begins with the Olympic Torch. The Torch travels every four years from Greece, the site of the first Olympics, to the Olympic host country. Once the Torch arrives, it is customarily taken around the country in a months-long celebration known as the Olympic Torch Relay. The relay continues until the opening ceremony of the games, when the Torch is brought to the host stadium to ignite the Olympic Flame, which burns during the entire three weeks of sporting events.
The first torchbearer of the Olympic flame was Brazilian women’s volleyball captain and two-time Olympic champion Fabiana Claudino. Asked about the honor of being the first person to carry the Olympic flame ever in South America, she said, “As a black Brazilian woman and an athlete, the feeling of representing the Brazilian people at the arrival of the Olympic flame on Brazilian soil is hard to contain.”
On its first day in Brazil, the Torch was carried by national idols and everyday heroes. It travelled on the ground, in the air, across water, and was even abseiled. Fabiana was the first in an illustrious list of Brazilian sporting heroes this day, which featured surfing world champion Gabriel Medina, Olympic boxing medallist Adriana Araújo, marathon runner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, and swimming star Thiago Pereira.
This month, the Olympic Torch arrived at Brasília airport on an overnight flight from Switzerland. The first day of its arrival was filled with festivities in Brazil’s capital. During all of May, June, and July the Torch will be carried via relay by over 12,000 torchbearers across the country, who will proudly bear the Olympic flame through 329 Brazilian cities until the start of the Olympics on August 5, when the Torch will arrive for the opening ceremonies at Maracanã Stadium in Rio.
Everyday people with amazing stories also carried the torch on this first day, such as 12-year-old Syrian refugee Hanan Khaled Daqqah; award-winning mathematician Artur Ávila Cordeiro de Melo; and inspirational head teacher Aurilene Vieira de Brito.
The torch travelled 100km around the Federal District on day one, with locals and tourists stretching their necks to gain a glimpse. Arguably the most emotional reaction came in Taguatinga, about 30km from the center of Brasília, where Joaquim Cruz, who won the 800m gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games, carried the torch. Cruz still holds an impressive record as one of only five men to have run the 800m race in less than 1:42 seconds.
“I was born in Taguatinga, I studied, and ran a few meters from here,” said Cruz, who is now a coach for the USA Paralympic team. “Sport has taken me around the world, and today I returned home with this beautiful torch, which seems magical when it opens.”
On its first day in Brazil, the Olympic flame was transported by various means: it descended the Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge with an abseiler; crossed the Paranoá Lake in a canoe; arrived at the Mané Garrincha in a helicopter; and rode on horseback in Riacho Fundo.
An exceptional tribute was evident when Kamukaiká Lappa, from the Yawalapíti tribe in the Xingu region, carried a torch at the national Memorial to Indigenous Peoples. In an interview the day before the Torch Relay, Kamukaiká said: “The Olympic games are democracy; they help to promote and celebrate peace.”
Many indigenous leaders are hoping that this tribal involvement in the torch ceremony will help bring attention to the threats facing their societies. The leaders are concerned about a law currently in Congress, PEC 215. If the law is passed, it could give landowners the chance to block the recognition of new indigenous territories, and enable them to break up existing ones. Indigenous spokesman Toya Manchineri called for greater funding for FUNAI, the Brazilian indigenous affairs department.
As the daylight faded, the torch returned, in the hands of volleyball star Leila, to the governmental promenade Esplanada dos Ministérios, where the day ended in classic Brazilian style with a great party, which included entertainment by an all-female percussion group.