Just finished watching the Women’s Volleyball final and surprise, surprise, Brazil gets the Gold. Though obviously built like Amazons, the Brazilian team also happens to be drop-dead gorgeous, prompting me to wonder aloud: “do looks have anything to do with Brazil’s selection process?” Every single man (and many women) in the Coliseum were in awe of not only the beauty of these divas, but their poise during warm ups and friendliness in signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. It makes me wonder if this is intentional Public Diplomacy AND how anyone can resist visiting Rio de Janiero after seeing these angels in action.
Everyone loves rivalries. And in Latin America, nothing quite trumps the Argentina-Chile rivalry that permeates every interaction between the two. Granted, relations aren’t as chilly between as during 19th century territorial disputes or the Falklands War, but mention the fact that Chile’s World Cup selection finished 2nd in South America this year to an Argentine and you’ll get an earful, if not a black eye.
For this very reason I made sure to get good seats for the Chile/Argentina basketball preliminary. Just watching them warm up looked like high school versus a college team; the Argentines clearly had the height (and weight) advantage and during the game, were unstoppable on the inside. Still, Chile maintained a substantial lead for most of the first half simply by hustling down the court to pressure and play great defense. This was a real joy for the 10,000 or so in attendance who were primarily cheering for Chile. Through most events, Chile has gotten the “fan favorite” treatment, but the fact that they were playing the not-so-humble Argentines made the flag waving chants that much louder.
The 2nd half was back and forth, but with 2 minutes left in the game, Argentina had regained their poise with a 8-point lead. After missing consecutive shots, Chile’s point guard threw up a hail mary shot from nearly half court and banked it in. After getting a defensive stop, the same point guard hit another 3 pointer from the exact same spot (“he’s heating up” I yelled to the bewildered Chilean fans around me). Chile’s hero of a power forward drove to the basket on the next play and lo and behold, Chile had come back with only 30 seconds left to play. Argentina did what they do best by kicking it down low and dunking it, leaving 6 seconds for Chile to tie the game. Chile kept consistent with giving it to their hero for the last play, who penetrated the lane with a good look at a reverse layup, but blew the delivery, losing the game. As Argentina celebrated their near-embarrasment at the hands of a country that doesn’t even have Pro B-ball leauges, Chile’s would-be savior wept on the floor. Despite the outcome, Chile graciously came to center court to receive a standing ovation for one of the best basketball games I’ve had the pleasure of viewing.
I’m learning which of the Games are most popular by the wait time to get into each event. Yesterday, I showed up to the preliminaries for Men’s Volleyball and ended up waiting 3 hours without even getting in. Today, preparing for the worst, Federico and I arrived an hour and half before the Colombian baseball game to find no one there. This was perplexing. Baseball is popular in Latin America, especially around the Caribbean, where it is often favored over soccer. Inland, only Mexico, Nicaragua, Colombia and Venezuela have Professional Baseball Leagues. Colombia has sent 7 different players in MLB in the United States, while Venezuela has sent over 200, three of which are currently on my Seattle Mariners. Fede explained to me that the lack of spectators was likely related to the fact that Colombian Baseball is a Coastal thing, we were in Baranquilla, it would have been packed.
We got to watch Venezuela destroy Argentina 16-4, if it gets to the 7th inning and a team is 10 runs up, they just call the game. Next up was Colombia vs. Dutch Antilles. The vocabulary of the stadium announcer was great. He called the game for Colombia in Spanish and Dutch Antilles in English. So when Colombia was up to bat, it was “Carlos Villalobos, jardiniera isqiuerda (left fielder)” and “Johan Gorgian, leff FEEL” for Dutch Antilles. Other vocab was a bit more similar for some: cacher (catcher), bolas (balls), estraíc (strike), and JONRÓN (home run) and different for others: lanzador (pitcher), carraras (runs), capitulo (inning), and corre-corre (pickle).
The Antilles were a better rated team, they had beaten Venezuela previously and were the tournament favorites. The first few innings were sloppy: lots of runners left on base, 4 or 5 errors; it made me realize how good American baseball is and why all of these players want to be in the MLB (aside from the cash). Once the teams started to settle down we got a good game, starting with a lead-off Jonrón shot from Juan Carlos Llamas. By the 7th, you could see visible frustration among the Antilles players, angry that things were not unfolding how they expected, but they managed to rally back, almost tying the score before Colombia was able to put them away 4-3. My favorite part of the whole experience was the field we were on had a crowd capacity of about 1,000, and it finally filled up. Youngsters in grade school (who had no idea about the rules) happily clapped along to the organ and shrieked in delight whenever a foul ball bounced off the fence in front of them. There were a few die-hard baseball fanatics there, (probably Costeños), I could tell because they were the only ones who knew to yell “Charge!” after the organ count-up.
Over at the Velódromo Martin E. Cochise, the Colombians really cleaned up on the track bike finals, winning 95% of the overall medals. This was especially pleasing to world champion cyclist Martin E. Cochise, who just so happened to be sitting two seats away from me during the finals. There was a moment of tenseness, when it seemed one of the cyclists might break his world record time trial from 1970, but the 67-year old saw his legacy remain intact. For being the best known figure in Colombian cycling, he was a very outgoing, yet humble character, continuing to sign autographs and encourage “the wave” inside the Velódromo.
The last event, the ‘Americana,’ paired 7 teams of two bikers for 140 rotations around the Velodromo. The most exciting part of this event is how each team grabs and “slingshots” their teammate around the curves, attempting to score every 20 laps. After 100 laps, the positioning for the last scoring lap got a bit fierce, with Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia all within grasp of the Gold. As the Argentine cyclist crossed the finish line in first place, he turned to taunt the Colombian cyclist behind him with a closed fist. This didn’t sit well with the crowd, or the Colombian cyclists, who exchanged unpleasantries with the Argentine while still riding around. I (regrettably) made the decision to yell BOLUDO! (jerk) at the pompous jerk. As the quarreling trio came by our side, some of the younger Colombians in the stands picked up on my Argentine-centric insult and started a BO-LU-DO! chant.
Hold on, let me find my soapbox. While I hate the stereotype that Argentines are arrogant, self-absorbed, wannabe-Europeans who could care less about the rest of South America, this is more or less how they are viewed in Colombia and throughout the continent. Having lived some months in Argentina, I’ll gladly stick my neck out for all my coworkers, friends and acquaintances whom have shown me what great people they are. But ¡Carajo! You guys have to learn something about Public Diplomacy! I was in Argentina when World Cup soccer coach Diego Maradona made the infamous “keep on sucking” comment that bounced around worldwide sports networks, making all Argentines look like arrogant jerks. To have more athletes reinforcing this stereotype is just terrible. Some advice for any Argentine athletes (or travelers) outside of Argentina: If you don’t want to be a BOLUDO in the eyes of other countries, please, just leave the attitude and “boludez” at home. Take it from a gringo who managed to the humility to befriend a cycling legend from Colombia without bringing up Lance Armstrong once.
Colombia has started off dominating the South American games this year. Suprising, considering Argentina and Brazil are generally the top contenders (Colombia is 5th in all-time medal count). Cycling has been the main source of their medal production, winning big golds early on in time trials, track and long distance courses. Track & Field and Archery have also contributed to Colombia’s early lead.
One thing I left out from the last post was at the inauguration of the Games on Friday, President Uribe also announced Colombia’s desire to host the 2026 Soccer World Cup, citing the South American games as evidence Colombia is ready for one of the most prestigious honors in international sporting.
For those not in the know, the South American Games (like the Olympics just for S. America) began tonight with a HUGE inaugural celebration in the stadium a few blocks from my house. The inauguration featured director Franco Dragone, the master behind Cirque du Soleil, which meant we got some amazing choreography, costumes, cocepts and of course, Le Cirque:
So much excitement had been in the air for all the folks here in Medellín, intent on showing all the beauty their city has to offer for the first time on an international level. After the Cirque spectacle, all the athletes from each country proudly marched around the stadium to massive applause from their warm Paisa hosts. Given the recent diplomatic tensions (and war games) between Venezuela and Colombia, I thought that the crowd might reflect this by booing the Venezuelan athletes. Boy was I wrong, the cheers Venezuela received boomed louder than any of the other teams (save the home team, Colombia). It’s like my Paisa buddy Federico says, “we like Venezuelans, it’s just their president we have a problem with” (which might sound similar to anyone who traveled abroad during the Bush era). After the Olympic torch was presented, President Alvaro Uribe addressed thousands of Paisas who chanting at the top of their lungs. To have an outgoing president so well-liked and respected is just something I’m not used to and for what it’s worth, he’s got some decent charisma. Afterwards, the Paisas celebrated in the streets, content that their city earned the confidence to host the most presigious games in the continent and content to be able to show off all of the wonderful things their city has to offer. Here’s some great video from the show:
With an inauguration like this, how can you not be at least a little excited?