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A Gold Medal for Brazil



My cousin, Rodrigo Lessa, celebrating with his daughter, Isabela, at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Many Americans are unfamiliar with the geographical and cultural beauty of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I’m proud to say that, as a Brazilian-American who has spent time there, I do.

The 2016 Rio Olympics only strengthened the existing appreciation and love I have for my second country, despite what all the doomsayers and media reported over the last six months, suggesting the events would end in disaster.

My mother is originally from Rio, and her whole family still resides there today.  After the games concluded this week, I had the chance to catch up with one of my cousins from there. The pride and enthusiasm I heard in his voice when he spoke about it was contagious – which led me to write this blog post.  It’s especially interesting to hear his perspective, because he’s been working very closely with the Olympics. He’s responsible for managing and sending all the game results data and information across the internet, focusing on the official website and mobile app.

Announcements that the 2016 Olympics would be held in Rio de Janeiro were initially received with uncertainty and doubt. Would they be able to host the biggest event on the planet? How would the country’s infrastructure, security, economic and political issues play a role? What about Zika virus? Most of the public opinion and the world news focused on all the negative attributes of the city, instead of highlighting the many good ones.

“They were expecting an epic failure,” my cousin Rodrigo Lessa told me.  “The underdog feeling was real and was here to remind us that, without planning and discipline, such big milestones cannot be achieved.”

Then, the opening ceremony happened and doubts turned into joy.  The Brazilian people began to do what they do best – have fun!  Tourists followed suit.

“All around the city, you could see people talking about modern pentathlon or equestrian like they were pros, visiting the NOC (National Olympic Committee) Houses and taking part in cultural events. The infrastructure issues seemed irrelevant, the security was working and everybody started to relax and enjoy themselves. Once again the ‘jeitinho brasileiro’ (Brazilian-way) won, and with it, we won our pride,” he said.

Rio made history in the Olympics because of its people. They are so unbelievably passionate about everything they do that their actions surprised and inspired people across the world. Only Cariocas (a Brazilian word for Rio natives) boo a world champion in such a strong way to break him, just because he was competing against a Brazilian, and then cheer for them both.

“We say that Brazilian people would even boo the Pope if he was competing against a Brazilian priest,” my cousin joked (in true Brazilian-manner).

It was in the legendary Maracanã Stadium on Saturday night, when Neymar scored the winning goal past Germany’s goalkeeper to give Brazil its first gold medal in men’s soccer.  After being embarrassed by Germany in the last world cup, losing 7-1, this gold medal was a win for the nation as a whole, representing the way they turned pressure into motivation throughout each and every 2016 Olympic event.

“It restores our pride and gives us strength to make things better, not for show this time, but for our own good.”

My cousin Rodrigo joined the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee almost three years ago.  The scope of the project he was assigned was twice the London 2012 scope, and they had less than half of the time to implement, test and have it ready for the games.   His team ended up delivering the two biggest digital projects in the history of the Olympics, with live results for all sports.



Liz Brabants -Team Mariellen 


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