Brazil Blog: First Impressions from Rio!
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Bulgarian Olympian Christian Ivanov offers his thoughts from Rio.

Hello from Rio! I really wanted to do a blog for the IG readers similar to the one from the London Olympics four years ago; however, since this time I am covering the actual competition for IG and I am at the arena for every single session of training, qualifications and medal rounds, it will be a bit different as I'll have less time to hit up other events and sightsee. Although this blog might not be as frequent, I will do my best to provide interesting stories, pictures and videos from the Olympic host city from the perspective of a first-time visitor and a huge gymnastics fan!

I've been in Rio for almost three days now, and for two of them I've watched the podium training, three subdivisions for the men and five for the women (for details on it, please check our Facebook coverage). My first impression was being struck by just how enormous Rio is with its population of 6 million population. You can definitely feel it traveling from place to place. Rush hour is as bad as it gets and the traffic here really slows things down.

The very first evening I went to a corporate function dinner hosted by McDonald's, one of the official Olympic sponsor. From my hotel in Barra da Tijuca to the restaurant, which was 15 miles away right next to Maracana Stadium (where the Opening and Closing Ceremonies will be held) it took one hour and 20 minutes, ouch! But as painful as the long ride was, the Brazilian food was well worth it... large variety of Mediterranean-style salads and side dishes with lots of different types of barbecue, don't mean to sound like Anthony Bourdain, but the meal was really flavorful and delicious, and I'd go back in a heartbeat! With all the discussion about Security seems decent with lots of checkpoints and screening to go to any of the events.


The Olympic megastore in Rio Olympic Park

I haven't tried public transportation yet, but I've heard it's reliable but a little slow. So far the most convenient mode of transport for me has been Uber, very popular and fairly inexpensive. From my hotel to the Olympic Park, where the gymnastics and some of the other sports are going to take place, is about a 20-minute ride to go 8 miles in exchange for 20 reals, approximately $7. At the Olympic Park, organizers are still hustling on last-second preparations; installing signs, putting out garbage bins, even fixing up pavement. But for the most part, it feels that everybody is ready to go!


At Rio Olympic Arena with my friend and former teammate Jordan Jovtchev and Bulgarian reporter Boryana Staikova

Argentinian tennis player Juan Martín del Potro practices in Rio

The Rio Olympic Arena, the first venue to host artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics and trampoline under one roof, looks ordinary on the outside, but it has a warm and cozy feeling inside even with no spectators in traidning. It's a little over 13,000 capacity and it is set up between the main aquatic center and the velodrome and the Olympic Tennis Center all within comfortable walking distance from each other.

It looks like most media is already here... bumped into Australian commentator Liz Chetkovich and head coach Peggy Liddick. Also had a good chat with the always-fun crew from BBC represented by former gymnasts Craig Heap, Beth Tweddle, and Dan Keatings, and the lovely Christine Still, wife of British women's team coach Colin Still. The late Mitch Fenner, who did so much to help the Dutch men qualify, will really be missed in Rio.

My friend and former teammate, six-time Olympian Jordan Jovtchev, stopped by the venue during yesterday's podium training to check in. Unfortunately Bulgaria didn't qualify anyone in artistic gymnastics this year, but Jovtchev is working for Bulgarian television here, and I am sure we'll see more of each other in Rio.

Today is the opening ceremony and I can't wait to watch it.... Looking forward to the "Carnival"-themed celebration, but my anxiety is primarily growing in anticipation of the gymnastics competitions beginning tomorrow. The men take the stage first. For some, they compete knowing they will only have one day of Olympic competition, but others plan to battle for spots in team, all-around and event finals. The qualifications will be a very stressful day where you can't win a medal, but you can certainly lose one.

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

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