All About Rio

Mahoney Chats about the Olympic Games

Jackrabbit’s President and CoFounder, Mark Mahoney, has been living a dream over the past few weeks. It was truly a family affair as his two (adult) children and two siblings gathered in Rio to “do” the Olympics. Since Mark was a gymnast all the way through to his college years, seeing our gymnastics and swim teams compete was a special experience. The Jackrabbit connection added another layer since many Jackrabbit customers had athletes who train or had trained at their facilities who were competing in the Rio Games.

We thought Mark’s Olympic experience might have a unique perspective and might give us a good sense for how it was to experience the Rio Olympic Games in person. So we did a little Q&A with him so we could share the experience – through his eyes.

Here is the Q&A. Enjoy the read!

Why was it important to you that your Olympic experience include your family?

I want to help my children to experience other cultures and this was a great place to see people from all over the world interacting in a very positive way. I also was happy that they experienced – in person – shining examples of sportsmanship and the highest possible level of sports competition. Hopefully they will want to travel to an Olympic Games with their own children for the same reasons. I was thrilled that I could also experience this with my brother and sister. These are thrilling memories to be able to share as a group – not memories that I would tell otherwise have to them about.

We didn’t visit Rio, we lived there for two weeks. We made it real by renting an apartment and living among the local people. We definitely had a different experience than if we had stayed in a hotel. Not only could we stay longer (because the apartment was cheaper) but we could see how real Brazilians live. We rode the metro and went to the markets with them and felt totally comfortable, welcome and safe the entire time. We were also just a block from Copacabana Beach, so it was amazing!

It was good that we were able to spend time among local Brazilians around our apartment because we really didn’t have this opportunity inside the Olympic venues. It’s a shame that the tickets to events were too expensive for locals to afford.

How did it make you feel to run into Jackrabbit customers in Rio?

It was surreal to be there and then to see our customers who were there to support their athletes.

It’s hard to describe the pride I felt when I realized that so many of our customers have athletes at this level. Our customers are doing amazing things in their facilities and we are part of that ecosystem. We help gyms and swim facilities train Olympians.

It’s also a proud feeling to be able to cheer on athletes that we are connected to: cheering for Jake Dalton whose parents own a gym and use Jackrabbit; cheering for Gabby Douglas and Laurie Hernandez who train with two other customer facilities.  Seeing Coach Marsh from SwimMac and the big group of swimmers who train with him. Many competed, many won medals. It was exhilarating to see them do so well and to feel that special connection.

What was it like to be such a visible American?

It was fantastic to represent the U.S.A., not just by cheering for our athletes, but by dressing up in some pretty obnoxious red, white and blue garb and carrying a flag. My red white and blue Seuss hat was definitely an attention-grabber. I had lots of people from all countries ask to have pictures made with me. But the more important part of representing the U.S. A. was being welcoming and engaging with everyone. Helping those who we couldn’t even communicate with feel comfortable even though we were all in a strange country. It was important for us to represent the type of Americans we want the world to know.

I also saw USAG staff members. Talking to them about the Games made me realize how awesome it is to be able to do things to help all gyms and to enhance the sports of gymnastics with what Jackrabbit does.

What perspective did being a former gymnast give you? 

It was amazing to see how much the sport of gymnastics has progressed since my days as a University of Georgia  Gym Dawg – ‘79-‘83. Seeing the skills that these gymnast do like it’s nothing is stunning. The level of difficulty has skyrocketed and so has the popularity of the athletes and the sport as a whole. We had Olga and Nadia but their popularity was nothing compared to the utter stardom that gymnast (and many other athletes) experience. When I was a gymnast it definitely wasn’t a headline sport but now gymnastics is the most popular of the summer Olympic sports.

What was the atmosphere like among athletes, attendees and fans?

The atmosphere was very positive. Fans from all countries respected one another and came together to cheer on their favorites in their events.

The atmosphere was unique around Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. It was frenzy-like. Everyone cheered for them. Their popularity knows no borders. Simone Biles had a similar effect on people. In fact, many of the other athletes wanted their picture made with her. She was definitely the sweetheart of the Games.

Rarely did you hear boos. A few booed Russian athletes because of the drug scandal disqualifications but that didn’t last for very long. Everyone was very considerate and supportive of each other and of all athletes because of how “big” it is to make it to the Olympics much less win a medal.

Everyone was respectful of other countries’ national anthems too. If their country’s anthem wasn’t the one being played, people quietly soaked everything in as other countries’ athletes and fans beamed with pride. Everyone could be proud of their country without being criticized.

There was no animosity. In fact, I don’t remember hearing anyone raise their voice for anything – except cheering. No angry folks fighting or arguing over lines or seats – or anything else.

People from all countries were happy to see Americans. It’s a shame that the news always shows and talks about conflict and hatred like it is everywhere- that there is no “good.” That anger, fear and violence wasn’t present at this Olympic Games.  It was all good.

Besides their capabilities, what impressed you most about the Olympic athletes?

The positive atmosphere around the entire city was, in part, driven by the sportsmanship of the athletes. That left a tremendous impression on me.  It’s not like sporting events we see in our everyday lives back home. This level of athlete takes their passion for the sport, their respect for other athletes and their sportsmanship to another level. It was illustrated perfectly in the collision between the two runners, U.S.A.’s Abbey D’Agostino and New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin. They helped each other up after colliding during the first round of the women’s 5,000m race. One didn’t take off and leave the other to finish with a better time. They helped each other cross the finish line together. The scene was paralyzing it was so moving. Those types of actions are what the whole thing is really about. It’s awesome that the Olympic Committee awarded them special medals.

What was it like to see Phelps and Bolt compete?  

Like I mentioned before, sometimes it was surreal that we were actually at the Olympics – not watching it on TV! Being in the facility when these icons compete is like a shock and awe video is playing out in front of us. Each had their own “presence” in their venues. After it was over, we wer pinching ourselves because we couldn’t believe we had seen the “The Greatest of All Time” and “The Fastest Man Alive” compete – and win gold medals – in person.

It was quite an experience to see Phelps swim, but the presence he exhibited around the pool was amazing. He is a humble leader. He interacted with young swimmers and veterans, fans and officials. He has realized what the sport has done for him and he felt that this Olympics was his chance to start giving back. In fact, he mentioned in an interview, after announcing his retirement, that he wants other swimmers –especially young ones struggling with finding their place in the sport – to reach out to him for advice/input/help. He wants to be that leader and that mentor.

Bolt’s presence in the stadium was bigger than life but he doesn’t seem to be the arrogant show-off that many describe. His presence is one more of exuberance about his sport and his God-given abilities. He is respectful of other athletes and of the race he is there for. He just knows how (and loves) to work the crowd. And respond they do – with cheers to his every move.  And just like Phelps, when he competed, everyone wanted him to win.

Can you describe your experience in a few words?

We started making our plans for Tokyo in 2020 before we left Rio. That says it all.

It is sort of a life-changing experience because it gives you a new perspective of the world: of your country and its place in the world and of people from other countries. It made the world smaller for me and showed me that everyone can get along.

Thanks, Mark, for sharing your experience. You have an amazing convergence of interests in the Olympics in general and in the Rio games in specific that your perspective enlightens us all!

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