Under the aegis of the Rio 2016 organising committee, Olympians are ensuring that no detail is left to chance in the preparations for this summer’s Games.
“Athletes are at the heart of our planning” is a commonly repeated mantra in Olympic Games organisation. So, when preparing to deliver the biggest sporting event on the planet, it helps to have a few ex-athletes on your team. Rio 2016 has recruited an entire battalion of Olympians, who are helping to ensure that when Usain Bolt and co arrive in Brazil, their only concern will be reaching peak performance.
One of the in-house experts is Giovane Gávio, a two-time Olympic champion with the Brazilian volleyball team (Barcelona 1992 and Athens 2004) who is now in charge of preparations for the volleyball competition at Rio 2016. His knowledge of what it is like to compete at the highest level is proving crucial.
Gávio’s boss is Agberto Guimarães, Rio 2016’s executive director of sport, a former distance runner who competed for Brazil at the Moscow 1980 (coming fourth in 800m) and Los Angeles 1984 Games.
Guimarães highlighted signage as one of the fundamental aspects of Olympic planning that is sometimes overlooked. In many cases athletes must navigate huge venues, and getting lost would cause unnecessary stress and loss of time.
“This fluidity of movement in competition venues is very important to athletes,” he explains. “There are several places where the athlete is going to circulate: changing rooms, athletes’ lounge, courts, ceremony areas, anti-doping, medical departments, athlete tribunes in the stands… it’s necessary for everything to be clearly signed so that everyone knows where to go and how to get there. A lack of clear signs would be a major hindrance.”
Another Olympian working with the organising committee is Sebastián Cuattrin, a former canoeist who competed in four Olympic Games for Brazil, finishing eighth in the K1 sprint competition at Atlanta 1996. Now in charge of the canoe events for Rio, he believes that small gestures – such as ensuring athletes receive a bottle of water the moment they finish competing – can make a big difference.
It is all about ensuring the wellbeing of the “main client” – the athletes, said Cuattrin, who was born in Argentina. And he has faith that the natural character of his adopted nation will help ensure a high level of service. “It’s a big part of the Brazilian way to give people a warm welcome and I believe this will be one of the biggest differences at the Olympic Games here.”
Meanwhile, Paulinho Villas Boas, Rio 2016’s basketball manager who played for Brazil at the Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992 Games, has to make special considerations for the super-sized athletes in his sport.
Villas Boas was part of the team of current and former athletes who helped test the furniture that was selected for the Olympic and Paralympic Village – or “the castle”, as Guimarães calls it. “We tested the beds and saw that we’d need some 2.2m in length,” he said. “But these would be tricky to fit into lifts and through doors. So we opted for two-metre beds that can be lengthened to 2.2m. It’s done using a separate part, which makes transport easier.”
Yet another key member of Rio 2016’s team of ex-athletes is Ricardo Prado, aquatic sports manager, who also heads the Sport Advisory Committee – a group of former athletes who advise the organising committee.
A swimmer who won the 400m medley silver medal at the Los Angeles 1984 Games, Prado said athletes need three main things: “great venues, good food and rest”. As well as highlighting door-to-door transport from the village to venues and good in-venue people flows so athletes can remain focused on competition, Prado said delegations needed to be provided with enough space for all their equipment, which ranges from sports drinks and physiotherapy equipment to ice baths and massage tables.
He also noted the importance of a good location in the stands for athletes. “As well as being able to watch the contests, it’s great to be able to see your team cheering in the stands when you are competing.”