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article imageFor Rio's sports-mad population, it's Olympics every day

By Laura Bonilla Cal (AFP)     Jul 30, 2016 in World

Rio de Janeiro's residents, or Cariocas, don't need the Olympics to prove their city is the center of the sporting world -- they know that the second they step outside.

Winter or summer -- well, there isn't too much difference in tropical paradise -- crowds of locals get up at dawn for a jog.

That might be true in many cities. What's different here is that Cariocas also rise for rowing, paddleboarding, group swimming in the Atlantic, climbing on Sugarloaf Mountain, surfing, skateboarding, football, volleyball -- the list goes on.

And then after work, out they all come again.

Every evening, Copacabana, Ipanema and Barra beaches fill with people in bathing suits, bikinis and Lycra athletic gear.

Even at two or three in the morning, it's common to see employees from hotels and restaurants playing beach football by floodlight at the end of their long shifts.

It's the healthy, even sometimes fanatically healthy, side of a country where obesity is a serious problem, with more than 52 percent considered overweight nationwide.

- Sports addicts -

Winter or summer crowds of locals in Rio de Janeiro get up at dawn for a jog  or for rowing  paddleb...
Winter or summer crowds of locals in Rio de Janeiro get up at dawn for a jog, or for rowing, paddleboarding, swimming, climbing, surfing, skateboarding, the list goes on
Vanderlei Almeida, AFP

"We're addicted to sport. We have classes from Monday to Thursday and if we can, we go Friday too. And Saturday. And Sunday," said Manuela Jifoni, a 34-year-old foot volleyball player waiting for her companions to show up on Flamengo beach.

Leonardo Ghisoni, a Hawaiian outrigger canoe champion and instructor, said "there's no better city than Rio" for swimming sports, given the average annual temperature of 24 Celsius.

"I have students of all ages. At six in the morning, older women come and in the afternoon, it's the adolescents," Ghisoni, 44, said.

Ghisoni leads classes paddling out into the beautiful, but badly polluted Guanabara Bay, where Olympic sailing and windsurfing events will take place, and further out into the Atlantic to visit the coastal Cagarras islands off Ipanema.

The 49-foot (15-meter) canoe takes six people at a time and although the sport only arrived 15 years ago in Brazil, the boat's Polynesian design is ancient.

Marcus Vinicius Freire, sports director at the Brazilian Olympic Committee, which oversees the 465-strong team at the Summer Games, told AFP that Rio is a sports capital for three basic reasons.

"First, it's the geography: it's green, there's water, mountains, flat areas, so you have options. Secondly, there's the temperature, and thirdly there's the Carioca spirit," he said.

That spirit is partly the easygoing Carioca way, but it also includes the love of living outdoors, where the beach becomes an extension of the living room and swimming is feasible 365 days a year.

"There's also a big cult of the body. But it's also the cult of health, it's a mix," said canoe instructor Ricardo Moreira, 42, who has competed at a high level and also likes to cycle, run and go to the gym every week.

- Having fun -

Every evening  Copacabana  Ipanema and Barra beaches in Rio de Janeiro fill with people in bathing s...
Every evening, Copacabana, Ipanema and Barra beaches in Rio de Janeiro fill with people in bathing suits, bikinis and Lycra athletic gear, taking part in a host of sports
Vanderlei Almeida, AFP

Victor Melo, coordinator at the Sports History Laboratory at Rio Federal University, said there's another big element: the love of having fun.

"There's a cult of having a good time" and Rio has the public space to let that happen, Melo said.

"Having fun is the Carioca's strong point and before or after work, he's trying to find ways to do that."

That's why in addition to the team sports, Cariocas take seriously the after-games tradition of having a cold beer.

"Always after football, you have beer -- it's as important as the football," Melo said.

Adriana Behar, a silver medal-winning Olympic beach volleyball player in the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Games, said Rio is "fabulous."

"There are mountains, paths, beaches, lagoons. The temperature gets people up and they can stay outside late into the night," Behar said.

"Cariocas go to the beach to sunbathe, but it's also to play sport and to have fun with friends and family. To play."

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