© 2024 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Heading To Rio Olympics With No Fear

Natacha Pisarenko
Miami Herald/AP
Robin Prendes, a 2012 Olympian, graduated from Coral Park High.

We're just weeks away from the2016 Rio Olympics and there are a lot of questions about safety: safety concerning crime and safety concerning zika. Michelle Kaufmann, sports reporter for The Miami Herald, is going to Rio to cover the games and puts these fears in context. This will be her 14th Olympic games. Her first was the  Albertville 1992 Winter Games. Here are her comments:

I'd say the first one that was really bad was before the 2004 Athens Olympics. That was after 9/11 and everyone thought it was going to be a disaster. They thought there was going to be terrorism, they thought that the Athenians would not be able to pull it off - the transportation and the communication and everything else  -  and it went off without a hitch; it was really perfect.

There have been questions before Beijing. There were questions about SARS; there were a lot of questions about the SARS disease back then. In China, there was a lot of talk about we’re not going to be able to breathe over there.

But the only Olympics where something really serious happened was 1996 in downtown Atlanta, USA. That is where the bomb was and I was less than a block away. That is the scariest moment that I have had at an international sporting event and it was right here on home soil.

And when you were in Greece you were given a gas mask?

Yes, right before Greece 2004, because it was after 9/11, there was a lot of question about terrorism and so all the reporters that went to cover it we had to take like a six- or eight-hour course on terrorism, ways to protect yourself and all this stuff. They issued us gas masks and we were required to carry around the gas masks just in case there was any kind of chemical warfare. They taught us things like how to saw off your arm.

All kinds of really scary things before that Olympics, and yet I went; I took my husband and my 4-year-old daughter. We had a fabulous time, and they'll be with me again in Rio.

I know that [zika] is a serious concern. Yes, I am bringing three different types of mosquito repellent. It's commonplace every time there's an Olympics or a World Cup. In the months leading up, there are stories about how horrible it's going to be and how it's never going to work and there's usually a disease, and at the end of the day everyone somehow pulls together. The country is very proud to be hosting whatever it is they're hosting. I'm hoping the same will be true for Brazil.

So putting fears aside, let's talk about the actual sports. Do we have any local athletes that we could be looking for?

Credit Tom Kimmel / USA Water Polo
USA Water Polo
Ashleigh Johnson, goaltender for the USA women’s water polo team.


We do have the Women's Water Polo goalkeeper. She’s a local woman named Ashleigh Johnson and she's from the Redlands and went to Ransom Everglades High School and then went on to Princeton and she's very interesting because she is the first African-American to compete in women's water polo for the U.S. and also is the only non-Californian on the U.S. team because the team is almost always always from California.  She's the only one from Miami so she's a true Miami person.

There's also a diver named Samuel Doorman, a University of Miami graduate who just made it in synchronized diving, so he's another one that's going to be local to watch for.

LexiThompson is a golfer. Golf is new in the Olympics this time. Golf and rugby are both going to be new sports this year and Lexi Thompson is a local golfer.

And we have Robin Prendes who's a rower, a guy who was in the last Olympics too in London. I believe it's four-man light weight and he's going to be competing again this time.

As a reporter, do you have access to any events [you want]? And if so, how are you planning this trip to Rio. What kind of things are you going to be covering?

As a journalist, you get a credential that gets you into every event. Some of the more high-profile events, if it's in a small venue, you have to then apply for a seat within the media seating in the arena. The Miami Herald, I have to say, is a big enough organization that we pretty much always get a seat in the building. But if you happen to not get a seat in the building you can still be adjacent to the building in the media work room and then you still get to go to the interviews after and the press conferences but you don't get to attend the actual event. Also [Miami Herald sportswriter] Linda Robertson and I have covered so many Olympics that when they make the list of who get seats for those priority events they base it on your newspaper's Olympic history. And the Miami Herald does have a very long tradition of covering Olympic sports and Olympics. So we are always near the top of the list with the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Credit Andre Penner / AP/Miami Herald
AP/Miami Herald
Brazilian Olympic officials and politicians pose with Vinicius, the mascot of the Rio 2016 Olympics, at the Itaquerao Stadium, during a ceremony to present Sao Paulo as a host city for the Olympic soccer tournament. Ten soccer matches will be played in Sao Paulo, but most Olympic events will be held in Rio de Janeiro.

Do you have a favorite event that you usually cover?

What I love about the Olympics is the drama. To be honest, some of my favorite events I cover at the Olympics are not the high-profile ones. Sometimes I like writing stories about the last-place finisher in a 10,000 meter swim because usually I have found that the more fascinating stories are the last-place finishers in distance events. They  tend to be people from developing countries and that's the only event that they could get in and so they are the true Olympic spirit.

What I love about the Olympics is the drama of a an athlete who trains four years or eight years sometimes for one moment, for one swim race that can last 10 seconds or 20 seconds on a track or in a swimming pool, and if you have a bad day that day there is no game tomorrow or next week or next month or next season and you're waiting four more years and your window may be closed by that time.  

So the drama of every Olympian is that it's a huge achievement just to be there, but then once you're there to have all of your years of training culminating in one race, one throw, one flip on a bar for a gymnast if you fall off that day. If your hand slips…you're done and you don't get the medal and to me it's just the purest drama.

Luis Hernandez is an award-winning journalist and host whose career spans three decades in cities across the U.S. He’s the host of WLRN’s newest daily talk show, Sundial (Mon-Thu), and the news anchor every afternoon during All Things Considered.
More On This Topic