Charlotte-area Olympic spectators bound for Rio: ‘There’s just nothing like it’

Mark Mahoney, left, attended the World Cup in Rio with his daughter, Alice Ann Clark and son Kit Mahoney. They’ll return for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Mark Mahoney, left, attended the World Cup in Rio with his daughter, Alice Ann Clark and son Kit Mahoney. They’ll return for the Rio 2016 Olympics. Courtesy of Mark Mahoney

As Olympians train for the event of their lives, several Charlotteans will also head to Rio to support family, report the news and enjoy the cultural melting pot of the Olympics.

▪ Retirees Grace and Jerry Smith of Indian Land, S.C., have attended every summer Olympics except one since 1988. After each one, they start putting money away for the next four years. “There’s just nothing like it,” Jerry said. He said he’s most excited to watch the track and field events and hopes to get basketball tickets. He said they’ve always enjoyed interacting with people with different languages and cultures. Though he said they’re not too worried about the Zika virus, they’ve made a few preparations: They’ll come prepared for Rio with mosquito nets to wear over their heads. “I think we’re going to look like an odd couple,” Jerry said with a laugh.

▪ Charlotte native Luke Edwards and 18 of his coworkers from Credit Suisse from all over the country are heading to Rio for sightseeing and sports. Edwards said he’s most excited for seeing Team USA compete in basketball and beach volleyball, and for golf, which hasn’t been an Olympic sport since 1904.

▪ Mark Mahoney and his family visited Rio for the 2014 World Cup, and they’ve been eager to get back to the vibrant city ever since. They’ll be sporting American flags and hats as they cheer on Team USA in gymnastics, to which Mahoney has a connection: He’s a co-founder of Jackrabbit Technologies, a Charlotte-based company that provides class management software to gyms where Olympians have trained.

▪ Environmental engineer Bob Stein and his son Seth Stein are no strangers to big sporting events, from Final Four basketball games to the 2014 World Cup in Rio. Stein said he’s excited to meet new people from all over and see the top athletes. “When you see the top players in the world, these guys are just so good,” he said. Still, he said he’s prepared for problems with facilities and infrastructure. “You’ve got to roll with the punches,” he said. “Don’t expect everything to be perfect.”

▪ Nineteen Queens University of Charlotte Knight School of Communication students are traveling to Rio to create stories and videos that they’ll send to the Observer and WCNC. Program organizer and Knight School director of digital projects Bob Page said they’ll be focusing on stories with Charlotte connections, as well as how the games will affect the city of Rio de Janeiro. “When an event like this is taking place, people do indeed open up in different ways,” Page said.

▪ Charlotte native and rising senior Jessica Coates is one of 30 UNC-Chapel Hill journalism students who will be reporting for the Olympic News Service. “I am extremely excited just to be in a situation that some other journalists that I admire and fawn over maybe never have gotten to go and experience,” Coates said. “We’re so young and getting this opportunity is incredible.”

▪ Erin Thomas was days away from buying tickets to the London 2012 Summer Olympics when she learned her nephew, volleyball player Maxwell Holt, would only be an alternate. Four years later, she’s excited to watch him compete on the U.S. team in Rio. “They’ve got some good athletic genes,” Thomas said of her sister’s family with a laugh.

Rachel Herzog: 704-358-5358, @rachel_herzog

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