Rohit in Rio: In an informal atmosphere, serious competition thrives

RIO DE JANEIRO - It is 6.15am, Rio, Saturday. First light on the first day of competition. The bus is late and journalists are compulsive fretters. How many times can you look at your watch in a single minute? Me, four times. The previous night I had read a website on the Rules of Etiquette in Brazil which stated: "Do not worry about punctuality. In fact, it is customary to arrive at least ½ (an hour) late to a dinner." 

At the bus stop is Gabriel, my new young friend, a volunteer who has a passing resemblance to the footballer Socrates - actually, to be honest, every bearded Brazilian reminds my generation of Socrates. Anyway I want to know about jeitinho, a word I have come across. "It's the Brazilian way," he says, "but it's hard to translate." Think of it as a little bit of cutting corners. Or a little improvisation. Which might mean a little bit of queue jumping. As a person who grew up in India, I grin. So does he. 

What gives this city an immediate appeal is its informality. To be here is to understand why the Brazilians once played football the way they did. With a relaxed joy. One afternoon a group of kids stood on a slim grassy patch between two roads and flew kites with a grinning abandon. This was their soaring Olympics.  

But of course informality must have a limit. At the shooting arena some days ago, a gentleman - he looked like an official - with two suitcases tells a security officer that his small suitcase has hardly anything in it. Really. The policeman smiles. No X-ray machine required. Kindly pass. Everyone grins. Me, nervously. 

Wait, the bus has come. Will we make the next bus to the shooting? Will the driver take sharp turns one-handed with a yawn at 70kmh? It's too lovely a day to complain, a hint of winter chill and a sky as blue as seas are only in paintings. Anyway stuff happens, people make mistakes. Even Kohei Uchimura, world champion on the horizontal bar, falls from the horizontal bar. 

This Olympics seems a bit rough and ready, like a bar in an old Western movie, or like the water the rowers had to contend with. Choppy was an understatement. Rowers expect to lose not to fall in. But somehow everyone gets by with a little ingenuity and good humour. When a bus driver and my colleague Jon failed to understand each other, they simply reached for Google Translate. Hell, if we can't get along at an Olympics, then where will we? Already there's a picture out of a North Korean and South Korean athlete taking a wefie.

 

At the shooting the stands are packed, but mostly with team officials and shooters. A convention of excellent nerds. This is a stressful pursuit which has left the hair of Abhinav Bindra, the 2008 gold medallist in the 10m air rifle, heavily flecked with grey. And he is only 33. His German coach Heinz Reinkemeier, who is completely grey, laughs and says of Bindra: "If he hits a bad shot he gets one grey hair. If he hits a bad shot, I get two grey hairs." Then he points at a bald coach and says, "If you can't understand the bad shot, you lose all your hair." Yup, these guys are weird. 

The shooting done I return to the Main Press Centre for lunch. This is the land of the literal heavy meal. Even in the media restaurant, your plate is weighed on a scale and then the price decided. It's the worst guilt trip of all time: You cannot hide from the kilos you are about to put on. As I eat my phone buzzes with news of a hockey score, a tennis debacle and a bomb scare. None of which I wished to know. 

Since my afternoon is free, I wander off to the gymnastics. Beauty in the indoors. It is men's qualification day, no medals, and yet there is a sizeable crowd. On the mats, everyone looks perfect till someone stumbles. Amidst such beauty, the imperfect stands out. 

Germany's Andreas Bretschneider falls off the horizontal bar. No matter, the crowd roars for him. Another gymnast lands awkwardly in the vault and is carried out on a stretcher. The crowd roars for him, too. In the end this is what will make this Games. No one remembers the waiting and the food. Only the skill of the athlete and the heart of the crowd.