Super Mario and his taxi of joy
I shan’t remember 14 August 2016 as the night that Wayde van Niekerk broke the world 400m record, nor will I remember it as the day that Usain Bolt won his third Olympic 100m title in a row.
No, I’ll remember 14 August 2016 as the day I had the best taxi ride of my life.
I’d visited the Canadian Olympic House with some colleagues and friends that afternoon, and we needed to head back to our hotel to catch our ride to the stadium. So we flag down a taxi, completely oblivious to the fact that we just so happened to pick the greatest freakin’ taxi driver in the history of taxi driving.
Mario (who soon became known as ‘Super Mario’) spoke as much English as we did Portuguese: none. But he was able to communicate with my colleague (who is fluent in Spanish) and he was overjoyed to learn that the four people in his cab were of four different nationalities. With him included, it made five. One for each Olympic ring. Clearly some sort of Olympic fate was at play.
Anyway, somehow, somewhere, YouTube was mentioned in conversation. He asked my colleague to search on YouTube for ‘Mario taxi Jo Soares’. Up pops a video.
It turns out that Jo Soares is Brazil’s answer to David Letterman. Super Mario once appeared on his show, during which he delivered a pro-feminist ode. It later transpired that he had appeared on several other TV shows.
Essentially, Super Mario is a Brazilian minor celebrity; one with an important message. He’s basically a cross between Rylan and Emma Watson.
So we start watching this video. Super Mario then recites this ode in time with the video – while driving – and acts out all the various moves that go with it. Each stanza is interspersed with an amazing cackle, which was both sinister and endearing all at once.
Now this went on for a good two minutes. We had not a clue what was going on. All we knew is that it would be the greatest thing that would happen to us all year.
And during a fortnight where we feared for our lives every time we set foot in a car, this ride was a welcome relief.
(NB: Here is the original video of Super Mario on Jo Soares’ show. His performance starts at about 6:20.)
The struggle is real
“These are the Olympics,” Al Oerter said after taking gold at the 1964 Olympics, having torn his rib cartilage just six days prior. “You die for them.”
Thankfully I survived my Olympic experience, but there are times when I felt like death.
You know it’s bad when you turn up at the stadium for the evening session and your colleagues are urging you to go back to the hotel and to “give this session a miss”.
I couldn’t bring myself to do it, though. I’d get the FOMOs. Apart from the two marathons (I missed the men’s, while I covered the women’s remotely from the media centre), I attended every session of athletics, including the three race walks.
I’d wake up at 7am on most mornings, catch a car to the stadium at 7:30am, on the days of the combined events I’d stick around at the stadium between sessions, then cover the evening session, then stick around for another couple of hours to write or publish reports, head back to the hotel at 1-2am, then publish the final few things back at the hotel, before eventually falling asleep at 3:30am. And then, before you know it, the 7am alarm is ringing again.
I’m not making myself out to be a martyr; many other journos were in the same boat. It’s brutal, but it’s just what you do.
I guess in some ways there are similarities to the decathlon in Rio. Each decathlon discipline represents the 10 days of athletics in Rio. The decathlon – like my Olympic experience as a whole – involved early starts and late finishes. The gaps between events – or, in this case, sessions – looked alright on paper, but often ended up going by ridiculously quick. And by the end of it all, we all felt how the decathletes look after the 1500m.
But you also feel a real sense of camaraderie with the people whom you work alongside at an Olympics – again, in much the same way that combined eventers seem to have a rapport unlike that in any other event.
I worked with some great people in Rio. We also make an awesome relay team.
To be continued with one final instalment, which will cover my favourite event of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.