KRAVITZ: Heading to Rio, and not the least bit worried about it – seriously

Bob Kravitz

A couple of weeks ago, the good people at NBC sent out a 45-minute-long informational video to all its employees who will be heading to Rio de Janeiro for the Summer Olympics.

Here’s my Cliff’s Notes version of the video, which, I should mention, was extraordinarily helpful and well-done:

The first five minutes told us what a wondrous place Rio is, how vibrant and diverse the city of Rio and country of Brazil is, how the place has so much to offer a visitor.

The last 40 minutes might as well have been titled, “One Thousand Ways You Might Be Sickened, Maimed, Brutalized and Otherwise Reduced to Crying For Your Mommy.’’

We heard about roving street gangs. We heard about Zika, and typhoid, and whooping cough, and several diseases I was sure had been rendered obsolete by Jonas Salk and his magic vaccine. We heard about Internet security, or lack of same. We heard about the water, both the water at the venues and drinking water. Who would have thought you’d have to use bottled water to brush your teeth?

I’ll be honest: It was mortifying.

So mortifying, my wife wondered if this might not be a good time to increase my life insurance policy. (That’s actually not true. She did that before Sochi).

There’s not a lot of good news emanating from Rio these days.

  • The water, as we mentioned, is basically toxic sludge, so I won’t be donning my Speedo and taking a dip in the ocean off Copacabana Beach. (The Brazilians are grateful for that, by the way). We’ve been told to stay away from ice, from peeled fruits and salads, unless they come from an Olympic vendor. Which I can live with; I’m thinking of three weeks of beer and Brazilian meats.
  • Nobody really seems to know whether the Zika virus will be a big issue or not; it will be winter down there when we attend the Games, and mosquitoes aren’t as likely to do their damage in mild temperatures. But if you’re a person who wants to have a child, would you risk it, even if it means losing the chance to live out your Olympic dream?
  • The president of Brazil is facing impeachment proceedings and several other high-ranking politicians and muckety-mucks are being investigated for shady dealings.
  • The economy, which was so vibrant when the Games were awarded to Rio, is in complete shambles. It’s so bad, the governor of Rio declared a “state of calamity,’’ saying the government is bankrupt and can’t meet its financial commitments in the run-up to the Games.
  • Recently, the lab that handles the Olympic drug testing has lost its certification, which means that until they get their act together, drug samples will be handled elsewhere on the globe.
  • For years, the Brazilians have been saying they’re going to clean up their water, especially at the competition venues. For years, nothing much has happened. The water remains a giant body of toxic, fecal sludge.
  • Crime? Oh yeah, there’s crime, especially in a country where the desperately poor live in favelas that are side by side with upscale Rio. With so many visitors in town, it’s going to be a Crime Carnival. Even my father, who has traveled to Rio and never goes off the beaten path, has been ripped off there.

“You’re not going to Rio, are you?’’ a friend asked the other day.

“Hell, yes, I’m going to Rio,’’ I told him.

Here’s the deal: This will be my 13th Olympics, and before virtually every Games, we’ve been battered by talk of an impending disaster. In Athens, there was talk that none of the infrastructure would be ready. (True story: Three days before the Games, I walked unchecked into the Olympic stadium, sauntered to the middle of the field and watched workmen feverishly prepare for the Opening Ceremonies. One worker, a Brit, told me, “It’s like they found out they were getting the Olympics a week ago.’’) In London, there was talk of terrorism. In Sochi, there was talk that Vladimir Putin would personally visit us and put us in gulags.

And nothing happened.

You know the worst and most dangerous Olympics of all the Games I’ve covered over the years?


Right, Atlanta. Right here in the good, old U-S-of-A.

The worst moment came when the Centennial Park bomb exploded.

Big picture, Atlanta was the biggest logistical mess I’ve encountered since I began covering the Olympics in Albertville, France. It might have been fine for fans, but for working media, it was a clown show. Buses didn’t show up. Or buses showed up two hours late. Or buses showed up and then got lost. Or buses broke down. Media, who live in Spartan housing, don’t ask for much at the Games: Just get us from Point A to Point B on time, or close to on time. We can handle the rest.

The way I see it, if I could survive Atlanta, I can certainly survive Rio de Janeiro.

You simply can’t live in fear, or else they’ve won. The mosquitos, I mean. The world is a scary and dangerous place. The mass shooting in Orlando. The suicide bombers in Istanbul. We’re not safe anywhere, except maybe Iceland, especially when their soccer team happens to be playing. We don’t know who the enemy is anymore, what the enemy looks like. When they strike, we are caught wholly unaware.

All you can do is prepare. Got my inoculations. Got my Pepto-Bismol, and my Imodium, and my acidophilus, and my antibiotics, and my goofy-looking money holder, and my Permethrin and Deet repellent wipes, and whatever else they end up telling me to bring.

Somehow, the Olympics happen and most of the time, they happen without great incident. And we walk away, exhausted but joyful, having gained the chance to watch some of the best athletes in the world while living temporarily in an entirely different part of the world.

I just won’t drink the water.

Even when I’m brushing my teeth.