SAO PAULO — Brazil has set up its Olympic training camp in Rio … Rio Maior that is, a relatively small Portuguese city of 21,000 residents outside Lisbon.
Brazil’s Olympic committee feared its team would lag before the Tokyo Games next year after months of inactivity at home. So since mid-July, 72 high-performance swimmers, judokas, boxers and gymnasts have been training at the Rio Maior Sports Center to try to catch up to rivals who started earlier.
Altogether, the camp involves more than 100 Brazilians, all of whom had to test negative for the coronavirus before leaving home, and on arriving in Portugal. It was timed so they could get started last Thursday, exactly one year out from the Olympics.
The camp will eventually feature more than 200 Brazilian athletes and staffers in 16 sports until December.
There is no Copacabana Beach or Sugar Leaf Mountain but, more importantly, this Rio is free of COVID-19.
Rio’s 2016 Olympics infrastructure is mostly closed, with only a handful of athletes able to work out for the Tokyo Games. Even if training facilities were to reopen soon, the athletes fear they would quickly close again due to Brazil’s poor efforts to contain the virus.
Brazil has officially recorded nearly 90,000 deaths and more than 2.4 million cases, second only to the United States.
Rio Maior, a quiet city 46 miles north of the Portuguese capital, has zero cases.
“Rio Maior gives us a bubble,” Marco La Porta, deputy chairman of Brazil’s Olympic Committee, says.
“All workers at the sports center live in the city. And that gives the athletes a very big assurance. In Brazil, they just don’t know who has had some contact with the coronavirus. We are trying to close a gap.”
They expect Rio’s facilities to be safe to use by the end of the year. In the meantime, 120 more Brazilian Olympians will arrive in Portugal over the next few months to train in track and field, wrestling, diving, taekwondo, triathlon, sailing, handball, rugby and table tennis.
They are all receiving special permission to enter the country with help from Portugal’s Olympic Committee, their presence excused as performing professional activities. Tourists from Brazil are barred from entering the European Union because of their trouble with the coronavirus.
Brazilian Olympians discovered Rio Maior 10 years ago, preparing for other events. There are ongoing negotiations for it to become the team’s base ahead of the Paris Olympics in 2024. The experience during the coronavirus pandemic makes the deal nearly certain, La Porta says.
Rio Maior includes an aquatic park with two pools, a diving platform, an athletics stadium, a multi-use gymnasium, tennis courts and a soccer pitch.
Also being used are venues in the cities of Coimbra (judo), Cascais (sailing) and Sangalhos (gymnastics).
The camp will cost Brazil’s Olympic body $3 million that was marked for other international trips before the Tokyo Games. Each athlete costs $70 per day in Rio Maior, covering accommodation, five meals a day, training facilities, laundry, and transportation.
Athletes must wear face masks all day except when they are training, running or at the gym. Their buffet meals come at different times for each sport to avoid crowding in the restaurant. Every interaction outside training is guided by social distancing recommendations.
Synchronized swimmer Laura Micucci says she spent months without training with her teammates and was relieved when they gathered in the camp last week.
“It is still strange to wear a mask and use hand sanitizers all the time,” Micucci says, “but we can feel a little taste of competition again.”
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