The Olympics have drawn to a close, and the cariocas are already filled with saudades. You know that feeling, the one of indescribable longing when the circus is leaving town and you want to scurry after it crying: “Please come back. We love you!”

I wish Rio were a person so I could give it a hug, a kiss on each cheek, and say “Valeu!” Of course, that’s not the case, but if it were, could there exist any one person more amazing than Rio?

As the saying goes, if God is Brazilian, then the Pope is a carioca

The warmth, the friendliness, the unparalleled enthusiasm, the glass-half-full attitude, the contagious exuberance, the happiness that courses through the natives’ veins: All who came to Rio will take home a little piece of the Cidade Maravilhosa, their souls eternally stamped with the carioca spirit. They now know that in spite of all its flaws — and there are many — nowhere in the world compares to Rio.

By all accounts, the Olympics have been a huge success. The thrill meter was off the charts. As befitting the best of Brazilian soap operas that inevitably culminate with a deus ex machina ending, Rio 2016 didn’t disappoint. The spine-tingling moment when 70,000 euphoric voices came together to sing the national anthem after Brazil won that nail-biting, knuckle-gnawing match to finally bring home the illusive Gold in soccer, and at Maracanã to boot? Pelo amohh de Deus, my friends, it doesn’t get much better than that!

Speaking of which, to all you naysaying English-speaking journalists who didn’t believe Rio, and Brazil, could pull it off, a friendly word of advice. Don’t diss the cariocas! If you haven’t figured it out by now, the force is with them. As the saying goes, if God is Brazilian, then the Pope is a carioca. And now with Bolt on their side? Cuide-se…

You see, being a carioca is believing that everything will work out, and it did. Promises were made and the powers that be delivered. Even when it seemed that São Pedro (Brazil’s patron saint in charge of the weather) hadn’t gotten the memo, São Jorge (Rio’s patron saint in charge of all other things carioca) stepped in, the skies cleared and we were good to go. At least for the most part.

Valeu, Olympians! For the locals, it’s been surreal to bear witness as the world’s greatest athletes achieved unimaginable heights right here in their own backyard. From the grace of the women’s rhythmic gymnastics to the brute force of the men’s weightlifting to the precision of the synchronized diving, you have left your host dazzled, relishing every transcendent moment. Better guests? Melhor impossível.

Rio 2016 gave us Simone Biles’ artistry and swimmer Katie Ledesky’s phenomenal speed. We said goodbye to idols Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, among others, while ushering in an entire new generation of superstars. We watched as ever-so-gracious Justin Rose of the U.K. made history by winning golf’s first Gold in 112 years. With 19 Olympic medals, Brazil’s athletes reduced the country into blubbering wrecks of joy.

There were the honorable moments, such as when Etenesh Diro of Ethiopia lost her shoe during the 3000m steeplechase and finished the race barefoot. And when equestrian Adelinde Cornelissen of the Netherlands dropped out of the competition rather than risking her horse Parzival’s well being.

Ah, and the feel good moments, such as when discus thrower Piotr Malachowski of Poland announced he is auctioning off his silver medal in order to raise funds for a young boy’s cancer treatment. And the generosity of basketball great Carmelo Anthony of the U.S. using his day off to shoot hoops in a favela with some local kids.

And the ones that emptied our tear ducts, such as when Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympian ever, rushed the stands to share the moment with his little three month old Boomer. And Croatian gymnast Ana Derek who, in spite of receiving a zero in her first exercise, went on and completed her remaining presentations.
We were given a class in Olympic sportsmanship when long distance runners Abbey D’Agostino of the U.S. and Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand stopped to help each other after they collided in their women’s 5000m heat. When Abbey fell again, Nikki encouraged her to finish the race, hugging each other upon reaching the finish line.

Then, of course, the lighter moments, such as when media reports claimed that Japanese pole vaulter Hiroki Ogita’s “member” had dislodged the crossbar, thus costing him Olympic Gold. And the O’Donovan brothers, bless their Irish hearts, who cracked us up with their hilarious post-race interviews.

Lest we forget the Western press that went from predicting the Games would be mass mayhem of Dantean proportions to writing op-eds on the pros and cons of the carioca sunga (budgie smuggler, banana hammock, marble bag?) and the tastelessness of Biscoito Globo. Seems even the diehards couldn’t resist the carioca charms.

Sure, not everything went like clockwork. Who could forget the diving pool that looked like the Incredible Hulk had bathed in it? And the Mané who, if he hadn’t been so dense, could have learned a lesson or two from the cariocas. (Putz, cara. All you had to do was say “E aí, seu guarda. O negócio é o seguinte.” Then shown him a photo of your main squeeze, and everything would have been just fine.)

The most iconic of Games ever, Rio 2016 will be a legend that will endure long after the circus leaves town. Yet, what will be remembered most of all will be the persistent, overwhelming warmth and enthusiasm of the povo carioca.

So, congratulations, Rio! You did it. You triumphed. You won the Gold, and for this you should be immensely proud. Now on to the Paralympics, and remember: a gente se vê em Tókio!

Olhares Olímpicos – Originally published on 22 ago 2016