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Expect a different feel for Summer Games in Rio
A couple hours before, I only knew a few things about the Brazilian women’s volleyball team: That they were the defending Olympic gold medalists. That their country supported professional volleyball like no other. And that they were playing my Americans for gold once again.
Then I watched them dominate the USA, taking gold from the hands of the same American team they beat in the gold-medal game in Beijing.
And never before have I so fully despised an Olympic team.
Throughout Brazil’s 3-1 victory, the raucous Brazilian fans booed and hissed every time an American served. It was the first time I’ve seen any athlete booed at the London Olympics. The fans blew whistles and sprinted up and down the stairs with Brazilian flags wrapped around them. When the bronze medals were being presented to the Japanese team and the silver medals to the Americans, the gold-medalist Brazilians danced and shook. They beat their hands on the podium. As the Americans had the moment on the podium, the Brazilians gestured at their cheering fans and did a slow-motion run to “Chariots of Fire.”
It felt classless, unsportsmanlike, against the Olympic spirit — and perhaps also a preview of what the world will experience during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"A lot of them are my friends,” American outside hitter Logan Tom said. "They celebrate a little differently than Americans do. I let it slide. I did tell them, 'Get your asses down from the podium (when the silver and bronze medals were being awarded).' It’s just a little respect sort of thing. But like I said, it’s their culture. They celebrate how they want to celebrate. I’m all for that."
Do not read this as an indictment of that famous Brazilian exuberance. They’re known for Caiparinhas and Carnival, for samba and for all-night beach parties. They’re known for having fun and living life how it should be lived.
Instead of an indictment, read this as a warning: That the Rio Olympics of 2016 will have a very different flavor than these cordial London Olympics, where the Brits went wild when their countrymen won, but remained proper and polite to other countries. My initial anger was misplaced. This was a lesson.
None of Saturday’s exuberant celebration surprised the American team. American professional volleyball being what it is — non-existent — each of the members of the American team play internationally. Volleyball is the second most popular sport in Brazil, behind soccer, and two of the Americans, Destinee Hooker and Danielle Scott-Arruda, play for Brazilian clubs. All the Americans have played in front of all-Brazilian crowds. They are used to this.
So when the Americans spoke of it, their voices bristled only a bit at the Brazilian celebration.
"We’ve experienced the medal stand many times with Brazil, and that’s what we expect from them," American captain Lindsey Berg said. "I respect their happiness. Everybody has a different way of celebrating what they’ve done. And that’s normal in every situation we’ve been in with them. It’s not how we handle things, but I don’t think we can judge. We can have our opinions because everyone has a right to an opinion, but they’re happy, and they’re celebrating their victory."
As for the Brazilian crowd booing every time an American served? American journalists (like myself) who were tweeting moral outrage didn’t know it, but it’s simply common practice at volleyball matches in Brazil.
"I’m used to it," Tom said. "It’s their way of culture. They have a different way of thinking when it comes to the support of their crowds. I don’t take it as an insult, even though it may seem like it . . . South Americans, they like to dance, shake their booties. They are who they are. I am who I am."
As the American spoke, her silver medal dangling from her neck, a Brazilian player shimmied past, whooping.
The reaction of the American athletes was correct. The booing and celebrating were unfortunate, but only from our American perspective. The Olympics, after all, are about living side by side and basking in cultural differences for a couple weeks. We do not all dress the same way. We do not all talk the same way.
And we do not all cheer on our country, or celebrate victory, in the same way. Which is something we’ll all learn again in 2016.
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