“It was the most thrilling experience of my life!” exclaimed Maria Esther Bueno after carrying the Olympic Torch through the main street in Sao Paulo on Sunday 24 July.
“It was a little bit like the [ticker tape] parade I was given when I won Wimbledon for the first time and I was escorted on a fire truck from the airport to the city and the roads were lined with people!
“This was incredible! I ran with the torch along the Avenida Paulista with my friends and their dogs cheering me on and masses of other people waving and shouting.
“It is absolutely amazing to be a part of the Olympic Games!”
The Olympic torch relay progressed through the city of São Paulo, taking around 12 hours and travelling over 51 km, passing by many important landmarks on its way and protected by its special guards running alongside.
The Olympic torch relay has been generating excitement for 90 days all over Brazil, and has just under a week to go before it lights the cauldron in Maracana Stadium on 5 August.
“The excitement is growing as Rio 2016 gets closer. Everyone is getting very excited,” says Bueno.
At the corner of Paulista Avenue with Haddock Lobo street, the Olympic rings bobbed in the air, held by steel cables and holding dancers aloft, while on the other side, an orchestra, also suspended high in the air, enthralled the crowds, demonstrating Brazilian creativity for the art of entertainment.
“The entertainment was extraordinary and although it only took minutes for the torch to pass by, spectators, of course, were waiting for a long time so they had something to enjoy,” Bueno commented. “It also gave a real sense of occasion.”
A small number of protestors wielded balloons in red and black colours in a peaceful demonstration as a gentle reminder that Brazil is a troubled and leaderless country.
News that Roger Federer’s season has come to an unexpected close when he announced on Facebook on Tuesday that he would miss the upcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the rest of the year was met with bitter disappointment.
Federer said he was shutting himself down for the rest of 2016 on the advice of his doctors in order to extend his career and will therefore miss both the Olympics and the season’s final Grand Slam event, the US Open, in New York.
As Novak Djokovic battles for honours at the Rogers Cup in Toronto and Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray practice together in Mallorca, three of the top names remain on track for the quest for medals in Rio.
Most of the world’s best, led by defending champions, Andy Murray and Serena Williams, the current Wimbledon champions will be in Rio.
The Olympic Tennis Event starts on 6 August at the Maria Esther Bueno Tennis Centre in the Olympic Park at Barra, and has men’s and women’s singles events, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles.
Matches are best of three sets with a tiebreak at 6 games all.
Built for the Rio 2016 Games, the Olympic Tennis Centre features 16 courts, some of them temporary.
The centre court, named after Bueno, and its facilities are permanent and will be one of the Game’s biggest sporting legacies.
“Will we be ready?” asks Bueno. “Of course! We are Brazilians and we always leave everything to the last moment. Just look at the World Cup!”
“On my run I followed the Bradesco truck that was filming me all the way,” she added. “They kept calling out ‘Cabelo! [hair]’ and I realised I was almost setting my hair on fire with the Torch!
“They also had me hitting forehands and backhands!
“They gave me an extra segment so I ran quite a long way and I actually did run, although slowly. I didn’t want it to end…
“At the end, after lighting the next torch, they take you to one side where I was practically mobbed by everyone and I stood for a while there signing autographs and posing for pictures before going up onto a stage that Bradesco had constructed.
“I was greeted by [Master of Ceremonies] Ottaviano Costa, who was very complimentary about me… lots of confetti! It was lovely!”
Honoured by Rio 2016
As the most famous Brazilian female athlete of all time, Maria Esther was one of the big stars in the Olympic Torch Relay on Sunday.
The Wimbledon champion and owner of a total of 19 Grand Slam titles did not have the opportunity to compete in the Olympic Games because the sport was excluded from the Olympic program between 1928 and 1988.
She is making up for it this year, with her name now adorning the main Olympic Tennis Stadium in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the start of the Olympic Tennis Event, which starts on 6 August with all the top names in the game competing for medals.
As a Bradesco Olympic Torch Ambassador, Maria Esther Bueno is enjoying every minute of her involvement.
“Everything was filmed by both Bradesco and TV Globo, which featured me on their popular TV show ‘Fantastico’ that aired on Sunday evening on Globo 1.”
Fantástico [Portuguese for Fantastic —The Show of the Life] is a Brazilian national weekly television news magazine that lasts two hours and is the most watched show on Sundays.
Bradesco, sponsor of Rio 2016
Bradesco is an official sponsor of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Rio 2016 Team Brazil as well as the Olympic Torch Relay.
“I am very proud to be a Bradesco Ambassador,” said Bueno.
“And I was so pleased to see all the directors from the bank supporting me on Sunday. It was just great!
“It was a fantastic experience from start to finish and then everyone wanted to look at the torch!
“Such a magical day!”
Bueno will be commentating on the Olympic Games for TV Globo / SporTV.
For more visit mariabueno.org.