August 7, 2016 was our first real conscious day on the streets of Rio. We had picked up tickets to the games that our team would be playing in during the preliminary round at Canada House the night before. After venturing out to do a preliminary run of our down town neighbourhood, we decided it was much like any other big city and there was not much to be afraid of. Everyone was shopping as they would in any other city, and no one appeared to be stressed out as the news media had predicted. We got a big supply of fruit, with great mangos, bananas and apples that looked as good as any from the stores at home. I also bought a disposable razor, a tooth brush, tooth paste some dental floss, and deodorant to try and tide me over until the luggage would arrive later in the morning.
I got back to the apartment, and after shaving off two day’s growth of beard, checked out the internet to make sure it was up to snuff. The first thing I came across was a news flash that two people had been shot outside Olympic venues—one a mugger who was shot by police for trying to rip off some tourists, and another, a fifty-one year old woman who had been shot while attempting to outrun three men who were trying to rob her. So much for the feeling of total safety!
Most of the rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent at Canada House where big screen TVs were carrying CBC coverage of all the Canadian athletes and where we mingled with all of the other parents and friends of Olympic athletes. We still had no news at to the whereabouts of our luggage, and TAM Airlines were impossible to communicate with. At 3 PM we went to the Maracanãzinho Centre where all of the volleyball games were going to be held. The first game between Egypt and Cuba was well underway, and we literally walked into the venue with none of the waiting and hastle described in the media. There were numerous attendants pointing and jabbering in Portuguese to tell us how to get to the venue. We joined our fellow parents in a section of the court with a great view of the action. It was a fantastic venue with great visibility for everyone in the building. After watching the remainder of the game in progress, we waited patiently for our game to start. Just before the first set, I ran to the bathroom to make sure I would be able to get through the game without interruption. One of the American fans was in the lavatory when I was washing up and when he saw my Canada sweater wished me luck, telling me that we were going to need it. I told him not to underestimate our boys, and he just said, “we’ll see”.
The Americans came on with the swagger that we Canadian fans have come to know only too well over the years. Their team captain always gave me the impression, that it was somewhat below his standing to actually appear on the same court as the Canadian team. After they got the first point on the score board, they left no doubt that this was going to be a cake walk. However, as the game progressed, they looked more and more uncertain of that. For those of you who watched the game, our “boys” kept their cool and played on even though they often slipped up and dropped a few points behind our neighbours to the south. That was a gift that was presented to them in Edmonton when they lost to the Cubans and were forced to play through a tournament in Japan to earn their booth at the Olympics (those brutal games brought the team together in a way that nothing had done to that point…they learned to dig in rather than fold when things got tough. The following weeks leading to their winning gold in group B of World League only cemented that resolve).
At the end of the first set, we were totally elated, thinking that at least we were not going to go down in 3. As things progressed in the second set, and we knew we had at least secured 1 point in the Olympic scoring sytem, and we were beside ourselves. There were several times in the third set, when things looked a bit dicey, but each time the team pulled together and fought their way back. We had defeated the US in three sets! We had announced to the rest of the teams, that we were here to play.
Needless to say the boys were pumped. The American captain didn’t look the least bit smug, and the American fan that I had met in the lavatory, never even glanced in my direction as he was leaving the stadium.