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Rockin’ the Podium

Published on August 17th, 2016

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
Our sport doesn’t have that many celebratory moments. Sure, we have major championships, and the victors congratulated by their peers, but their feats lost on the general public. But not the Olympics. Competing in the Games is an achievement understood by anyone. And then winning a medal, well, that is a rock star moment.

The Medal Race at the Rio Olympic is that crescendo moment. Flamengo Beach is full of ticket buying spectators. Family, friends, and sports fans line the water to be close. PA systems and monitors share the story. Cold beverages shape the mood. The double-points, non-discard race impacts the standings. It is that pressure situation that challenges the competitor.

After the finish, the medal winners greet their coach boat for congratulations and country flag. The photographers know the score, and are positioned to capture the emotional moment. The sailors are required to sail toward a buoy near the beach so as to pass the crowd. They’d probably do it anyway. This is Rio, where a festive atmosphere is their greatest commodity.

The sailors then head toward the beach ramp within the secure venue. Teammates and coaches help them with their boat. More congratulations occur, and the media is there to follow it. Such relief, such joy to have accomplished an Olympic dream. So much gets invested to achieve the rare medal, a test that only occurs every four years. A spinning world for the athlete suddenly stops. Every waking moment, every step taken with purpose, now gets lost in achievement.

Athletes are required to greet the press after each racing day, but the winners get the attention. The ‘Mixed Zone’ is that scrum of reporters on one side of the railing, athletes safely on the other. Nowhere else is the media permitted to intrude on the athlete’s routine. The media is a reminder that the Olympics are different.

The Medal Ceremony is a revered event that takes coordination. The podium is positioned for the light, on the beach, with Sugarloaf Mountain in the background. The Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) sets the time at 16:30 for the proceedings to begin. Surrounding the platform on one side is the spectator beach. This is a raucous group, loud with chants and flying flags. They set the mood. The ocean lines one side, with a deep crowd within the venue completing the circumference.

Race officials, event staff, teammates, and competitors come to witness the awards. This is everyone’s Olympic moment. Esteemed dignitaries greet the athletes as they step up to the podium. The crowd cheers, the country flags fly, and the winner’s national anthem played. I saw some of the athletes avoiding the ceremony, too hard to watch after their defeat. Others came from other events, perhaps strengthening their will to have their moment.

The athletes, with the medal around their neck, navigate the route through the crowd. Either before or after the ceremony, a random selection by doping control may have occurred. Must always be ready to pee. The media tent, which hosts the scribes and shooters, is their next stop. They attempt to express their feelings at the press conference. Some can’t believe their good fortune. Some are thrilled at their success. Some are relieved for it to finally be their turn in the sun.

Night comes quickly in Rio, and into the darkness the athletes go to celebrate. Their boats, their equipment, their total meaning for countless years can wait. They forget about it for now, letting their Olympic moment be their focus. Celebrations like this come rarely for a sailor. It is a worthy award for a lifetime of work.

How to follow the Olympics… click here.

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