Vamos! Latin fans add flavor to first South American Games
By Alexandra Ulmer
RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazil's raucous fans may dominate most Olympic venues, but Mexican supporters in sombreros and loud Argentine contingents waving flags are also reveling in the first South American Games.
The Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Games were largely out of reach, so Latin American fans are seizing on the Brazilian extravaganza knowing this may be the one chance to cheer their teams in person.
About 75 percent of tickets have been snatched up by Brazilians, but Argentines and Chileans are the next most common spectators from the region, infusing the Games with Latin flavor.
"This is a unique experience for those of us from here," said Chilean Javier Salazar, who took his first international flight to attend the Games.
"So I'm enjoying as much as I can, seeing as many sports as possible, and enjoying the people from here, who are so upbeat," added Salazar, 29, as he made his way to a handball game draped in his national flag.
Although less pronounced than during the Brazil 2014 World Cup, when thousands of Latin fans drove for days and slept on Rio beaches to see their teams, supporters like Salazar are giving their athletes a lift in Rio, waving flags and shouting "Vamos!", or "Go!" during meets.
When Colombian gymnast Catalina Escobar fell during her floor routine on Sunday, for instance, a handful of her yellow-shirted compatriots started shouting "Colombia!" to perk her up, and the chant gradually spread across the Rio Olympic Arena.
Latin athletes have also found it easier for their families and friends to watch them compete in the world's biggest sporting event.
"My parents, my uncles, my cousins, my grandparents - they're all here!," Ariana Orrego, the first female Peruvian gymnast to qualify for the Olympics, told Reuters.
With more Latin media also able to make the trip, athletes are enjoying more limelight back home.
"People in Chile are much more interested," rejoiced Alejandro Goycoolea, the Chilean delegation's press attache.
Of course, the influx of Argentines into Rio has also stoked up the soccer-crazed region's deepest rivalry - and the Brazilian crowd's taunts have overshadowed some sporting events.
"They chant about Maradona, they chant that they're five-time champions, they cheer on the other team," said Argentine tourist Leandro Sosa, 25, who took a month off from his job at a bank near Buenos Aires to attend about 30 sporting events in Rio.
"But that's the folklore! These are my first Games, the first South American Games, so honestly it's just beautiful."
Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Ed Osmond