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Brazil Blog: Let the Games Continue!
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Bulgarian Olympian Christian Ivanov offers more thoughts from Rio de Janeiro after a busy week of Olympic gymnastics. Pictured: Watching tennis with Valeri Liukin

It has been a week since my first blog, but I promise to make it up in this one. Of course over the past week a lot of memorable gymnastics has happened. By far the most exciting event has been the men's all-around final, where Kohei Uchimura topped Oleg Vernyayev in an epic battle, both showing an incredible level of gymnastics and mental toughness. Simply unforgettable!


The Vinicius hat!

After the men's all-around, the men's team final was the next most exciting event. I was happy to see the cleanest two teams, Japan and Russia, win gold and silver, very deserving! The U.S. women's team and Simone Biles are doing what they came to do, dominate everybody, no surprise there!

A couple of days ago I visited the Olympic Megastore to pick up some gifts for friends back home. The lines just to get into the store and to check out are, of course, megalong, but the service is impressive and it is not as crazy as it looks. There's a good variety of merchandise from T-shirts, polos and hoodies to mugs, pencils and pins that everybody is buying. Check out the selfie with the Vinicius hat, which they told me is one of the most popular items in the store. Vinicius is the official mascot for the Olympic Games, named for Brazilian cultural icon Vinicius de Moraes.

In front of the gymnastics arena I bumped into Bulgarian judge Zdravko Kurtev, who I used to train with back in Bulgaria. Even though Bulgaria unfortunately doesn't have any gymnasts here, they were able to send a male and female judge. I snapped a photo so you can get a quick look at the male judges' uniforms, which I personally like. I had a quick chat with 1980 Olympic champion/amazing person Yelena Davydova, who judged floor during the all-around final. (By the way, if you are wondering if Aliya Mustafina got credit for her Mustafina turn and double turn with leg horizontal, the answer is nyet!)

Speaking of gymnastics judges... it's a shame that, for the first time anyone can remember, the FIG (or IOC?) is not disclosing the judges' names, their nationalities and assignments. What is the purpose of that? What are they afraid of? It makes our sport look like it is trying to hide something.


Me with Bulgarian judge Zdravko Kurtev

Handstand in front of the Selaron Steps

Friday was the first day in Rio without gymnastics (sorry trampoline fans), and it was a great opportunity to do some sightseeing. Of course, the top of the list was visiting the Christ the Redeemer statue, located on top of the Corcovado Mountain in Tijuca Forest National park. The 100-foot Jesus Christ statue is the cultural symbol for Rio and Brazil and a must-see for tourists. The view from the top is simply breathtaking, overseeing Sugarloaf Mountain, Guanabara Bay, Tijuca Forest and many of Rio's popular beaches and neighborhoods.

From the top of the mountain, thanks to modern technology I took an Uber to the touristy neighborhood of Santa Teresa known for its winding steep and narrow streets, unique architecture and many art galleries. Of course I had to stop by the world-famous Selaron Steps, known as the Escadaria Selarón, an incredible work of art by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón, who designed it as a tribute to the Brazilian people. Over time it became a well-know attraction for both tourists and locals.

At the end of the day, I attended a party thrown by the International Judo Federation, hosted by its president, Romanian Marius Vizer. They had live music, an abundance of Dom Perignon and a great selection of hors d'oeuvres, all celebrating the Olympics and its judo athletes, coaches and officials from all around the world. At the party I met the great Paula Pareto from Argentina who won the 48kg category here and who is so charming, and, so far she is the sole medalist for her country. I also had the pleasure of meeting Sebastian Coe from Great Britain, the Lord Coe himself. What an honor!

And as we were celebrating the sport of judo of course, my first thoughts were, why can't the FIG organize an event of this level for our athletes and gymnastics leaders, who are just as worthy of a massive celebration!?

In attendance was also Antonio Castro-Soto, son of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who is the doctor for Manrique Larduet. He explained that Manrique has struggled with an ankle injury and had to compete in the all-around with a cortisone injection, but after the fall on vault decided to protect his ankle for the event finals on parallel bars and high bar, where he has a legitimate shot for a medal.


Watching tennis with Jordan Jovtchev

Today was the second day without gymnastics, and it was a full day of tennis for me. As some of you may know from my London blog, I am a huge tennis fan – but so are gymnastics legends Valeri Liukin and Jordan Jovtchev. I enjoyed chatting with Valeri while watching Andy Murray dominate Kei Nishikori the way the women's U.S. team dominates the rest of the world.

The second semifinal I sat next to Jordan and we had a blast watching an awesome three-hour match between Spain's Rafael Nadal and Argentina's Juan Martín del Potro. It was a lot like the all-around battle between King Kohei and Prince Oleg, very dramatic until the last point, which was won by del Potro in a final set tiebreak!

Out of curiosity, I calculated a hypothetical women's team score of U.S. vs the World, using all the best scores here in Rio excluding the U.S. (top three scores on every event from qualifying or/and team finals) and it still fails to beat the "Final Five." The final result is USA 184.897, the rest of the world 183.963.

Three days of event finals begin Sunday, when the specialists come out to push gymnastics to yet another level. Let the Games continue!

Christian Ivanov represented Bulgaria at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

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