By Alexandra Ulmer
In what might well become the defining image of Brazil’s Olympics, the beach volleyball competition kicked off on the iconic Copacabana beach on Saturday to the cheers of hundreds of fired-up Brazilian fans.
The only problem was that many more spectators were left waiting outside the venue in long queues.
With the Atlantic Ocean glistening behind the 12,000-strong purpose-built arena, Brazilians revelled in having one of their favourite sports played on one of the world’s most famous beaches.
“It’s like a spoon to sugar. The perfect pairing,” exclaimed shirtless bartender Wilson Pucci, 40, from the vertiginous bleachers as he watched local male favourites Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt win their match.
Cheers, chants of “Brazil”, and blaring Latin American pop hits filled the arena. For those who had flown in from afar, the vibe was unbeatable.
“When you feel like there is nowhere else in the world that is better to be than right here, right now, that’s a great feeling and that’s what I’ve got today,” said Dan Rookwood, 38, visiting from New York.
“It’s a massive bucket-list item ticket,” he said above the roars.
With past Olympic beach volleyball games played at parks, on royal parade grounds, or even next to car parks, the Rio beach venue was a godsend for players too.
“When I walked in, I actually got a little bit emotional,” said Italy’s Adrian Carambula, 28, who with his partner Alex Ranghieri beat Austria’s Alexander Horst and Clemens Doppler in the first match.
“I was expecting it, I embraced, and I play with it.”
But another notorious facet of Brazilian life was on display as scores of fans were stuck in long queues that stretched along the Rio beachfront, leaving athletes initially competing in front of eerily empty stands.
“It was meant to start at 10 a.m., it’s 10:30 a.m., and we still have some 200 metres to go,” said Buenos Aires lawyer Guido Guillermo, 47, as vendors hawked coconuts and hats around him.
Even there, however, Brazil’s natural wonders took precedence.
“Lining up in this climate, with the sun and this view isn’t the same as doing it in the cold and rain,” he added, just metres from people tanning, swimming and jogging beside Copacabana’s volleyball arena.