Pelé on Rio Olympics, lighting the cauldron

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NEW YORK — Pelé often quips when the Olympics arise in conversation.

I never played in the Olympics, but maybe I can come back for the Rio Games.

The Brazilian soccer legend, now 75 years old, is expected to have a role in the Rio Olympics in August. Just not as an active competitor. What it will entail, Pelé says he doesn’t even know.

He is considered the favorite to be chosen to light the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony on Aug. 5, at the storied Maracanã stadium.

Pelé already carried the Olympic flame in 2004, ate Subway sandwiches with Michael Phelps in 2013 and marveled at watches with Usain Bolt in Manhattan this week.

And he helped Rio’s bid to host the Olympics, traveling to Copenhagen in 2009 for the host city vote, where the Brazilian effort beat groups including a Chicago delegation that boasted Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

Pelé was in New York this week for the Tribeca Film Festival debut of his biopic, “Pelé: Birth of a Legend,” which opens in theaters May 6.

He sat down with OlympicTalk in a Park Avenue hotel on Thursday. Here are excerpts from the conversation:

OlympicTalk: What did you know about the Olympics growing up?

Pelé: We had two or three athletes who did the Olympics competition very good. I saw the athletes, I saw the jumpers, but I don’t remember their names. But we had two or three good athletes for the Olympics. But I never played in the Olympics, and Brazil never won the Olympics in football.

Editor’s Note: Adhemar da Silva won Olympic triple jump titles in 1952 and 1956 and is one of two Brazilians to win multiple individual gold medals. Pelé signed professionally at age 15 in 1956, and back then professionals didn’t play Olympic soccer.

OlympicTalk: You were reportedly crying in Copenhagen after Rio won the Olympic vote in 2009. Why were you in tears?

Pelé: One of the reasons was because I had never participated in the Olympics. Second, because in sport I am very emotional. When you have some meeting or tournament, I have to be very strong and prepare myself because I am very emotional. I cry easy.

OlympicTalk: When was the last time you cried about something sports related?

Pelé: The last time was a very short time [ago]. It was when Brazil lost the World Cup [in 2014].

OlympicTalk: What would it mean if you could light the cauldron?

Pelé: I am very, very happy if it happens. … It’s a gift from God if I have the health to be there. I wish I’d bring luck for Brazil.

OlympicTalk: Have they asked you to light the cauldron?

Pelé: I don’t have any information yet.

OlympicTalk: How do the Olympics compare to winning the World Cup?

Pelé: Oh no, it’s different, because World Cup is just one kind of sport. Olympics you have a lot of involvement, a lot of sports. It’s different. I think the pressure for the football, the pressure is much more strong than the Olympics.

OlympicTalk: If Brazil wins an Olympic soccer title for the first time, would that make up for the World Cup?

Pelé: I think it would make up a lot, but first of all I think the most important thing, unfortunately, the political situation is not too good now [President Dilma Rousseff is on the brink of impeachment]. It’s a very short time before the Olympics. I think the most important is to make it as good administration, make it a good Olympics. This is the most important at the moment.

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Gregorio Paltrinieri swims second-fastest 1500m freestyle in history

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Olympic champion Gregorio Paltrinieri swam the second-fastest 1500m freestyle in history, clocking 14:33.10 in his native Italy on Thursday.

Paltrinieri, 25, missed Chinese Sun Yang‘s world record from the 2012 Olympics by 2.08 seconds.

The Italian now owns the second- and third-fastest times in history, including his 14:34.10 from the 2016 European Championships, also held at the 2012 Olympic pool in London.

Paltrinieri is a versatile distance swimmer. At last year’s world championships, he finished sixth in the open-water 10km to qualify for the Olympics, then won the 800m free in the pool in a European record time and finished with 1500m bronze, just missing a third straight world title in that event.

German Florian Wellbrock won the 1500m in 14:36.54 at worlds, with Paltrinieri finishing 2.21 seconds back.

Sun, 28, was in February banned eight years stemming from destroying a drug-test sample with a hammer in September 2018. Sun, who focused more on the 200m and 400m frees in recent years, did not race the 1500m at the 2017 or 2019 Worlds.

Top-level swim meets in the U.S. are scheduled to resume in November with the Tyr Pro Series.

MORE: Michael Phelps qualifies for first Olympics at age 15

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Bianca Andreescu to miss U.S. Open

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Bianca Andreescu withdrew from the U.S. Open, citing “unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic” compromising her ability to prepare to defend her Grand Slam title.

“I have taken this step in order to focus on my match fitness and ensure that I return ready to play at my highest level,” Andreescu, a 20-year-old Canadian, posted on social media. “The US Open victory last year has been the high point of my career thus far and I will miss not being there. However, I realize that the unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic, have compromised my ability to prepare and compete to the degree necessary to play at my highest level.”

Andreescu’s absence means the U.S. Open, the first Grand Slam tournament since tennis resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic, will be without both 2019 male and female singles champions.

Rafael Nadal previously announced he would not defend his title, saying he would rather not travel given the global situation. Roger Federer is also out after knee surgery. Women’s No. 1 Ash Barty didn’t enter, either, citing travel concerns.

Last year, Andreescu made her U.S. Open title run as the 15th seed, sweeping Serena Williams in the final. Ranked 208th a year earlier, she became the first player born in the 2000s to win a Slam and the first teen Slam winner since Maria Sharapova at the 2006 U.S. Open.

Andreescu then missed the Australian Open in January due to rehab from a knee injury that forced her to retire during a match at the WTA Finals on Oct. 30. She also missed the French Open and Wimbledon in 2019 following a rotator cuff tear.

MORE: Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis competition

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