(Editor’s note: Jon Bell is a Hernando native and is currently a student at the University of Memphis. Bell also covers high school football for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. Last month, Bell was one of a group of 13 Memphis students to take part in assisting the Olympic News Service report on the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In this story, Jon shares his reflections on that experience in this first-person account.)
You see yellow shirts of volunteers everywhere you look. Athletes are walking around enjoying their surroundings. Fans of all cultures and backgrounds are in awe of the events and the vibe. Crowded buses are constantly running all over the city. And I was in the middle of it all.
I had the opportunity this past summer to attend the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro along with 13 other University of Memphis students. It is something that I have wanted to do since I was a little kid watching Justin Gatlin win a gold medal at the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece. Now I can say that I was there, and not as a fan, but as a journalist.
While walking into the Edward J. Meeman Journalism Building on the Memphis campus, I saw a flyer for a study abroad trip to Rio for the Olympic Games. I was immediately interested and decided to apply.
Fast forward to a few months later: I find out that I was one of the lucky students to get selected, and I will be covering boxing.
July 29, we flew out of Memphis to start our trip to Rio. It was my first time to ever leave the country or even fly. After about 12 hours of traveling, from Memphis to Atlanta to Brazil, we finally landed in Rio.
In the airport, we saw athletes, teams, tourists and everyone else preparing for the Games. That is when it hit me. I told myself, “I’m actually at the Olympics. What is cooler than this?”
I still had no idea what to expect. I was just excited to be there and a part of the biggest sporting event in the world.
The day after we arrived, we started training week. We got to Rio a week before the Games started so we could have a chance to get prepared for our jobs.
For that week, we learned the process of our jobs as ‘flash-quote reporters.’ We were to get quotes from the athletes and put them on the Olympic News Service website as soon as possible for other news outlets to use.
Then I started my job. I was interviewing some of the best boxers in the world at practice or after matches. Some of the athletes were happy to be interviewed and would talk as long as they could, but others were not happy about reporters wanting to ask 50 questions about the match they just lost.
I was able to sit in the press section in the boxing venue by writers from AP, Reuters and Sports Illustrated. We enjoyed watching the bouts, but the fans were the most entertaining part. Thailand fans were decked out in plastic armor and helmets with their faces painted. Irish fans grew out their beards and painted them the colors of their flag. But no matter what, the Brazilian fighters got the crowd to roar.
Fans are what makes the Olympics great. I was walking with a friend through Olympic Park and a herd of Argentine fans were chanting, singing and waving flags. I have never seen more excited fans.
It was great to see fans from all over the world, but it did make all of us students stick together when possible. We could not go off and do our own thing because we really could not communicate well enough with the locals. But it did lead to friendships with everyone.
We spent a lot of time together during the training week. On our day off, we all tried to go see the statue of Christ the Redeemer, which seemed, with its outstretched arms, to welcome all the world to Rio. Unfortunately, it was closed to the public that day, so we went to Sugarloaf Mountain and ate in Copacabana.
After training week, we were separated as we went to our own venues every day, but some of us would stay up all night and play card games.
I did not really know any of the other 13 students on the trip. After spending three weeks together, we now have a fantasy football league together.
Now, I am back at the University of Memphis as a junior journalism student. I am working as a sports writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune, Tennessee Preps Weekly, V3Fights and The Daily Helmsman, the Memphis student paper.
Jon Bell is Sports Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.