Rio de Janeiro has been gearing up for its moment in the global spotlight for more than a decade, and with August 5 already here, it’s time for South America to kick off its first-ever Olympic Games. If you’re thinking about travelling to Brazil to follow in the footsteps of your favourite athletes, here is a look at how you too can “earn some medals” by turning Rio de Janeiro state into you very own Olympic arena.
The Judo Medal
Judo may be the official Olympic sport, but Brazil has its own martial art adapted from Japanese jujutsu known as Brazilian jiu-jitsu (or BJJ), which teaches a smaller and physically weaker person how to defend themself against a larger and stronger adversary using the laws of physics. Try out this full-contact self-defence sport at the Gracie Humaita academy, a gym created by one of the founding fathers of BJJ, the late Helio Gracie.
The Canoeing Medal
Ditch the canoe for a stand-up paddleboard in the tranquil waters of Canal de Marapendi, a clear water lagoon set just back from the beach in the posh Barra da Tijuca neighbourhood (epicentre of the 2016 Olympics). Those new to the sport – which involves standing upright on a surfboard and using a paddle to propel yourself through the water – can book a one-hour lesson with a local operator like Rio Adventures.
The Diving Medal
Forget the pool and dive through the skies instead on an adrenaline-pumping tandem skydive above Rio. Taking off from Resende Airport, you’ll jump from a Cessna aircraft as it reaches 4000m and freefall for 50 seconds before the instructor opens a parachute. Expect unrivalled views of Rio’s lumpy mountains and sprawling suburbs as you plummet back toward solid ground for six minutes.
The Swimming Medal
Race fish instead of humans on a snorkelling trip to Ilha Grande, a former leper colony and prison island that remains largely undeveloped to this day. Lagoa Azul (Blue Lagoon), on the north side of the island, is considered one of the best spots in all of South America to spot schools of colourful fish, but with shipwrecks scattered throughout the coast, you won’t find a bad spot to dive down and explore.
The Equestrian Medal
Skip out on the dressage event and jumping and let loose while riding along Darwin’s Rainforest Trail with a Mangalarga Marchador horse from the Desempenho Riding Centre. This path through the Atlantic Rainforest – which overwhelmed Charles Darwin with its biological diversity – takes you through a pristine patch of coastal jungle rich in reptiles, amphibians and an enormous variety of birds.
The Track & Field Medal
Rio is home to a number of fantastic running paths – including several that skirt the coastal beaches – but the most popular among local Cariocas is the scenic 7.5 kilometre Lagoa loop. As you circle the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon you’ll zip pass four different neighbourhoods with views of Rio icons like Corcovado and its oft-photographed beacon: Christ the Redeemer.
The Volleyball & Football Medals
Take the footwork of soccer and the field strategy of beach volleyball, combine them into one, and you’ve got the hybrid sport of footvolley. Try out this Brazilian obsession in the place where it was born, Copacabana Beach. Jump into one of the many pick-up games being played up and down the strip. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out the rules as they’re almost identical to volleyball with the key exception that you can’t use your hands.
The Gymnastics Medal
If there’s a martial art form that will see you flipping through the air like a gymnast it’s Brazil’s very own dance-sport of capoeira. Developed by Brazilian slaves in the 16th century, capoeira combines kicks and spins with theatrical flips and dance moves – all matched to the rhythm of a beating drum. Try your luck with an English-language class from living legend Mestre Leopoldina at Nestor Capoeira or join in a roda (match) at Ipanema Beach.
The Sailing Medal
Sail through the air instead of the sea by hang-gliding over the city with RioXtreme. Hang-gliding excursions launch from Pedra Bonia ramp, above the Tijuca Forest National Park, where you’ll glide over town for spectacular views of the coastal islands, the teeming forest and Rio’s largest favela (Rocinha) en route to Pepino Beach.
The Cycling Medal
Rio is home to the most extensive system of urban bike lanes in Latin America. Grab two wheels from the BikeRio bike-share program to check it out, cycling along the coast from Leblon to Gloria. This 14.5km stretch passes the beaches of Ipanema, Copacabana, Botafogo and Flamengo, and is but one part of a growing network of cycleways that will soon extend all the way to Barra de Tijuca.