Back to the future for three Brazilian Olympic champions in Beijing
Olympic Games 2008 gold medallists Cesar Cielo (swimming), Marianne Steinbrecher (volleyball) and Maurren Maggi (athletics) made Brazilian sporting history in Beijing. Ten years later, they were invited back to the scenes of their respective triumphs to see how the venues are being redeveloped for the Olympic Winter Games 2022. And they were suitably impressed!
Saturday 16 August 2008, morning, Beijing National Aquatics Centre (a.k.a. the Water Cube). Cesar Cielo, racing in lane 4, broke away from the chasing pack in the final of the 50m freestyle. He finished in a time of 21.30 seconds, an Olympic record, ahead of two French swimmers – Amaury Leveaux (by 0.15 seconds) and Alain Bernard (0.19 seconds). Brazil’s first and still only Olympic swimming champion, Cielo burst into tears on leaving the pool and on seeing his country’s flag being raised as he stood on the podium.
Saturday 23 August 2008, evening, Capital Indoor Stadium. Attacker Marianne Steinbrecher was an essential part of the Brazilian volleyball team that won its first-ever Olympic gold medal, beating the USA by 3 sets to 1 on the day of her 25th birthday. A fine victory that allowed Steinbrecher to put to bed the disappointment of Athens 2004, when her team was defeated by Cuba in the bronze-medal match and finished fourth.
Sunday 24 August 2008, late afternoon, Beijing National Stadium (a.k.a. the Bird’s Nest). Maurren Higa Maggi was the ninth athlete to step up for her first attempt in the women’s long jump final. The run-up and leap were executed to perfection, and Maggi recorded an enormous jump of 7.04m. The contest was already over. She fouled on her remaining attempts, except her fifth jump (6.73m), but it didn’t matter; no one else was able to beat the 7-metre mark. Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare took silver with 6.91m, and Jamaica’s Chelsea Hammond clinched the bronze with 6.79m. No female Brazilian athlete had ever won Olympic gold in track and field before then. Nor has done since.
From the “Water Cube” to the “Ice Cube”
Ten years on, these three champions, who wrote themselves into Brazilian sporting folklore, were back at the scenes of their respective triumphs. They were invited to visit the venues which hold so many memories for them to see the exciting transformation taking place to repurpose them for the Olympic Winter Games 2022. One of the venues, though, will be used in the same way – the Bird’s Nest, which will host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Maggi knows a thing or two about that particular subject; she was Brazil’s flagbearer at the Closing Ceremony in 2008, and completed her lap of the stadium with a beaming smile. “Ten years have passed! And here I am again,” she said, visibly moved. “It’s a moment I’ve dreamt about all these years. This is like home for me. The stadium has been kept in perfect condition.”
The Water Cube has already changed its name. Its famous façade now bears the words “Ice Cube”. And the venue’s interior has been completely transformed: the 50m-pool where Cielo set the Olympic record is being replaced with ice rinks that will be used to stage the curling competitions at the 2022 Winter Games. “People might think it’s really easy to turn water into ice,” said Cielo, the world record holder in the 50m freestyle (20.91 seconds, set in 2009). “But in fact, it’s not that simple, so seeing all the changes is particularly exciting. It’s a sustainable way to run a venue and work out how to use it in the best possible way.”
The enormous Capital Indoor Stadium was built in 1968 and was completely renovated 40 years later to stage the Olympic volleyball competitions. It is now being revamped again, to be converted into an ice rink that will host the figure skating and short track speed skating events in 2022.
At the end of the visit, Cielo, Maggi and Steinbrecher were invited to go and see one of the new venues under construction – the speed skating rink. “It’s part of the legacy,” said Rede Globo journalist Carlos Gil, who was also part of the trip. “It’s important to plan for after the Olympic Games. It’s clear, for example, that the high-speed rail lines will be extremely useful for the population. Everything is on track and will be ready in late 2019/early 2020. I’m convinced that Beijing and China will deliver very special and memorable Winter Games.”
I truly believe that the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games 2022 in China will be a success.Marianne Steinbrecher
These sentiments were echoed by the three Olympic champions, who were highly impressed with what they’d seen. “I truly believe that the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games 2022 in China will be a success,” said Steinbrecher.
“I wish the athletes and the public all the best,” added Cielo. “For us, this is very important. We feel at home here. We have our public. And I’m definitely planning on coming back here as a spectator to experience the Olympic Games again.”
Maggi rounded off the messages of support: “Good luck, China! See you in 2022!”