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Running with the Olympics Torch in Brazil

And the wonderful world of Airbnb

By Dieneke Ferguson

1 August 2016

Updated 8 April 2020

Dieneke Ferguson, CEO Hidden Art Running with the Olympics Torch in Brazil. Foto: Rio2016/Fernando Soutello


It is now 8 April 2020 and in the UK we are in the midst of the lockdown of the Coronavirus. On 24 March it was annnounced that the Olympics in Japan has been postponed to next year. They had actually started the torch relay in Greece and then the torch arrived in Japan. But the torch relay is participatory and it is no good to have the relay but no one can view it. Those participating in the Olympics would have no opportunity to practice and no one really knows how long the Coronavirus would continue to affect and paralyse countries and life as we know it.

But we can look back at Rio 2016.

Rio Torch Relay

On 5th August after a 90-day journey across Brazil the Olympics Flame reached its final destination and the last torchbearer will have lit the Olympic Cauldron in the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro at the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

The ceremony connects the Olympic Games of Ancient Greece, first held in Olimpia in 776 BC, with the modern Games that started in 1896 In Ancient Greece, the flame would be carried through Greek towns and cities heralding an Olympic truce for the course of the Games. All wars had to be halted so that spectators and athletes could attend the Games. In modern times, the Olympic flame is a powerful symbol of peace, union and friendship between peoples. The Ancient Greeks considered fire to be a divine element. They maintained perpetual fires in front of their principal temples, such as the sanctuary of Olympia. The first Olympic Torch Relay of modern times took place for the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games


Torch Relay

Route of Olympics Torch in Rio 2016 Olympics

The Rio 2016 Olympic Torch Relay began its tour of Brazil on 3 May in the capital city, Brazilia. 12,000 torchbearers will have carried the Olympics Flame to more than 320 cities all over Brazil and 20,000 km will have been covered. The torchbearers are mostly Brazilian, proposed by their local authorities or official sponsors (Coca Cola, Bradesco and Nissan). Anyone could apply and in the end the Rio 2016 organising committee and official sponsors selected those people whose life stories best reflect the values of the Olympic movement –  peace, union and friendship between people. You can see images of the Torch Relay in the Rio2016 Facebook page

Torch Relay the Brazilian way

The Brazilians definitely introduced their spirit and soul in the torch relay. My favourite is the one when Lieutenant Coronel Francisco Cantarelli, 39, led the torch in Caruaru, Pernambuco, agents from the National Forces followed him singing the music of Luiz Gonzaga, “A Vida do Viajante”(“The Traveller’s Life”). The chorus repeats every time the symbol of the Olympic Games is led by a member of the National Forces. You can see this clip here

The Olympics Flame

The Olympics flame is a symbol of the Olympic Games and it commemorates the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus by Prometheus. Its origins lie in ancient Greece, where a fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympics. The fire was introduced at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam and it has been part of the modern Olympic Games ever since. The first Torch Relay took place in 1936.

Lighting of the Olympics Flame in Greece for Rio 2016

The Olympics Torch

The design of the Rio Olympics torch embodies the Olympic spirit as well as elements of Brazilian culture including “harmonious diversity, contagious energy and exuberant nature.” The different segments of the torch represent the sky, the mountains, the sea and the ground that make up Brazil. However, the most innovative aspect of the torch is that when the Olympic flame is passed from one torchbearer to another, known as “the kiss,” the segments of the torch open and reveal the colours of the Brazilian flag. The torch was designed by Brazilian studio Chelles & Hayasi.

Rio 2016 Torch

Representing Airbnb London Hosts

My name was put forward by Airbnb to represent the Airbnb London Hosts. Airbnb is the official alternative accommodation services supplier for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.  I have been an Airbnb host since the London 2012 Olympics renting out a room in my Hackney-based home in Stoke Newington , London   I was absolutely delighted when Airbnb contacted me in January this year. I had very much enjoyed seeing the London 2012 Olympics Torch Relay go past Hackney in 2012. That was as a spectator and now I would a participant, one of the 12,000 torchbearers.

Selection Process

The selection process is quite lengthy and after having been proposed by Airbnb in January 2016 the Rio 2016 Olympics team informed me at the end of February 2016 that I had passed through the first stage of the application process which involved completing a form and for me to provide them with information for the uniform size. I also received details of the place and date of where I would run with the torch.

Then in April I was invited to the Closed Official Torchbearers Facebook Group, which is the main tool for the Rio 2016 organisers to communicate with the 12000 torchbearers in case there are any questions or doubts.

In itself preparing for the Torch Relay is a very long process: the route and towns have to be selected first, then the torchbearers confirmed. In the case of Brazil there was a crew of 200 people travelling with the torch to ensure all would work as it should. Preparation started at least 2 years in advance, and the actual torch bearers that have been proposed won’t hear until very near the time whether they have been selected and where they will run. In April I received the Torchbearers Handbook with further details of how the process works.

When the date was getting closer and it became clear that I was definitely selected, I started to prepare my trip to Brazil, which in addition to running with the torch in Passo Fundo in the South of Brazil would also include stopovers in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. I wanted to get a flavour of the richness and diversity of Brazilian culture from the beautiful natural scenery and breathtaking views in Rio de Janeiro to the creative and buzzing art scene of Sao Paolo.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Unfortunately all Airbnbs in Passo Fundo and surrounding villages were full, but I found some great Airbnbs in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.  When I enquired about availability of one Airbnb in Rio De Janeiro, Roberto the host replied ‘If you stay in my place I will be proud to host another torchbearer’ And it turned out that the Airbnb host Yoshi from Japan, also proposed by Airbnb had stayed in his Airbnb in May. Definitely the wonderful world of Airbnb! But as Yoshi had stayed with Roberto on the way out, Roberto was keen to see the torch as I would stay in Rio on my way back.

So at last the day had arrived (Wednesday 29 June) that I was flying out from London. Airbnb was covering my flight and accommodation in Passo Fundo and they found me a great flight without any stopovers leaving at a very good time in the evening and lasting 11 hours. My friend and business partner Manuel and his son Fabio accompanied me to the airport and off we went.

My friend and business partner Manuel accompanying me to Heathrow


In Sao Paulo I stayed in Ricardo and Cibele’s Airbnb  which had a marvellous view over Sao Paulo.

View from Ricardo and Cibele’s Airbnb in Sao Paulo

Ricardo loves his country and the food and for the few days I stayed there he skilfully gave me tips on what best to see and eat. He also prepared me tapioca pancakes (made from yucca flower) for breakfast.

My Airbnb host Ricardo preparing Tapioca for breakfast

Sao Paolo has a thriving contemporary art scene, which includes a plethora of murals throughout the city, from both known and unknown muralists.

Eduardo Kobra

Eduardo Kobra is best known for his massive-scale, brightly colored murals infused with bold lines. His famous photorealistic pieces often depict portraits of some of the most iconic people throughout history. This includes his mural of the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer which is 52 metres high and which was made soon after Oscar Niemeyer’s death in 2013 at the age of 105. The decision to paint Niemeyer at a great space on Paulista Avenue, the most important avenue in Sao Paolo –  was to honour the fact that the works Niemeyer did in the city were important.

The logistics and costs of painting the 52 metre high mural has been high. It included getting permission from the building and city hall, placing the scaffolds, agreeing on and setting the design, and buying the paintThe paint was donated by the staff of the building, a gallery helped with equipment, a hotel nearby hosted Kobra and his 4 co-painters, and a restaurant helped them with food. They did not receive any compensation but did it for the pleasure of doing a job at Paulista Avenue, the most important avenue in São Paulo.”

Mural of Niemeijer by Eduardo Kobra, Paulista Avenue, Sao Paulo

Airbnb Offices in Sao Paulo

I also visited the Airbnb office in Sao Paolo which is located in Villa Magdalena – a neighbourhood known for its art, restaurants, culture and community of makers. Merging Brazilian design with the company’s philosophy within one workspace, the environment was designed in collaboration with MM18 arquitectura who worked with local artists and designers. They organised the space around a large gathering area that includes an open kitchen and a series of large tables.

Airbnb Office in Sao Paulo, Brazil

All around the kitchen is the perimeter, bench and terrace seating inspired by the work of Burle Marx, a famous Brazilian landscape architect. This was a homage to his work, while also being a functional space for the team, allowing room for large gatherings such as presentations or all hands meetings.’ It is a long tiered bench that runs through the communal space and onto the outdoor terrace. A series of unique environments or ‘houses’ were also created which serve as different meeting rooms.

Airbnb office, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Dieneke at Airbnb office, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Beco de Batman

The nickname for the area is attributed to a graffito of the DC Comics character Batman which was painted on one of the walls in the 1980s. Local art students began filling the walls with other psychedelic and cubist influenced designs. The graffiti of Beco do Batman is now continually renovated and cared for by local community members. Every single wall in its 100m extension is covered top-to-bottom with graffiti of all shapes and colours.

Polyana with her favourite mural at Becode Batman


Polyana, Anita and Dieneke at Beco de Batman

Food from Minas Gerais

From there Polyana and Anita took me to a great Brasilian restaurant The Consulado Mineiro Conejo where food from Minas Gerais was served.

I had a great time. Thank you Polyana and Anita

Anita at Consulado Mineiro Conejo, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Passo Fundo

On the Saturday 2 July Helena, my Airbnb companion collected me for our very early flight to Passo Fundo in Rio Grande del Sur in South Brazil.

Arrival in Passo Fundo, Brazil

We flew in a small plane and the airport is very small and luggage is transported by a cart from the airplane to a big table in the arrival hall. There are no buses and the only way to get to town is via taxi.

Airport in Passo Fundo, Brazil

My torch run was not until Sunday so the Saturday we spent time getting to know the town.  We found out that it is the third largest medical centre in Brazil with about 10 universities. Large part of the population is from German origin with Germans mainly arriving in the 1830s. We already noticed that flags were put up in preparation for the torch relay on the Sunday 3 July.

Preparing for the torch relay in Passo Fundo, Brazil

I didn’t need to go to the designated meeting point on Sunday 3 July until 5.00 pm.  So on Sunday morning we decided to find the location of where my run with the torch would start.

The starting point of Dieneke’s torch run

Having found it and taken a picture of it we then proceeded to walk to a famous Churrasqueria where meat is cooked on barbecue grills.  The South of Brazil is famous for it.

Helena at Chico Churrasqueria, Passo Fundo, Brazil

Our designated meeting point was in a local school where I received my uniform, paid for my torch and listened to the instructions to how to run with the torch and pass on the flame from one torch to the other– the Kiss of the Flame. Helena could stay so that she could translate where needed, as the introduction was in Portuguese, although I was given a brief summary in English.

Instruction on running with the Olympics Torch, Passo Fundo, Brazil

Some of the 36 Torchbearers, Passo Fundo, Brazil

There were 38 of us and we were divided in 2 buses. I was in the first bus. When it was time to go to the bus that would ride ahead of the torch relay, Helena went to the point where I would be dropped off later with the bus to start my run.

Outside the local people were waiting, and behind our bus was the convoy with the music trucks from Coca Cola, Bradesco and Nissan. The torch runner with the flame followed escorted by the seven Guardians of the Torch.  In the bus we sat in order of when we would go out of the bus. I was number 103. The last one was 105. We were all given our torch and when the bus arrived at the collection point the designated torchbearer would go out, loudly cheered by the other torchbearers.


Location where Dieneke’s torch run starts in Passo Fundo, Brazil

When I got out Helena my companion from Airbnb was already waiting for me outside ready to take pictures, and soon people started appearing wanting to have a photo taken with me and the torch.

Dieneke waiting for the torchbearer with the Olympics Flame

Taking pictures with the locals, Passo Fundo, Brazil

Helena and Dieneke just before the Torch Relay, Passo Fundo, Brazil

Then the convoy passed by followed by the last torchbearer with the Flame.

Torch Relay, Passo Fundo, Brazil

That was the moment to pass the flame (the Kiss of the Flame) and run my 200 metres. Helena herself was running as well meanwhile taking videos and pictures. The media van which was in front of the torchbearer running also took pictures which we received later.

Kiss of the Flame, Torch Relay, Passo Fundo, Brazil


Running with the torch, Passo Fundo, Brazil


Dieneke Ferguson running with the Olympics Torch, Passo Fundo, Brazil. Foto: Rio2016/Fernando Soutello

After having run my 200 metres I passed on the torch to the next torch bearer, my torch was extinguished and I then boarded another bus that would take us back to the collection point.

Here those that had paid for their torch received their torch beautifully packaged. Meanwhile Helena had arrived back as well.

Used Torches back in the bus, Passo Fundo, Brazil

Whilst this was going on the second bus with the torchbearers was still dropping off torchbearers and the final torchbearer for the day lit a small cauldron in the park where the local authority had organised the festivities.

Before continuing the next day, the flame would stay safely in Passo Fundo in a security lamp.  After having droppped my torch in the B&B we just about made the final ceremony in the park and after that we decided to have a drink in a popular place. I was still in my uniform and many others had gone to the same street and when they saw me many started cheering.

Party in celebration of the torch relay, Passo Fundo, Brazil

What a day and what an amazing experience. The run itself is only 2 minutes, but the whole process for me has been magical – from the moment of being proposed, to the final confirmation, the journey and the run as well as what to do next with the torch. In the end I decided to buy the torch, although it is very expensive, but it is so nice to be able to show the torch here to others and share the magic with others.

Local paper reporting on the torch relay, Passo Fundo, Brazil


Helena with my Olympics Torch in Passo Fundo, Brazil


My room number in the Hotel in Passo Fundo was 103. The same number as the torch relay number.


Rio de Janeiro

The next day (Monday 4 July) we both flew back together to Sao Paolo where Helena left me to continue my journey to Rio de Janeiro. When boarding the plan to Rio I noticed that one of the passengers had what also looked like a torch in his wrapping. When I asked him it turned out that this person was James, the third torchbearer proposed by AIrbnb. He was on his way back to Los Angeles. Luckily we managed to take pictures with our torches. What a wonderful world is the world of Airbnb! Virginia the 4th torchbearer from Rio de Janeiro was in Poland, so I was unable to see her in Rio, but we communicated via Whatsapp.

I bumpted into James. Torchbearer and Airbnb Host from San Francisco when we were about to board the plan from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro.

My Airbnb host Roberto in Rio was extremely pleased to see the torch at last and we took several pictures, including this one with his 4 dogs, girlfriend and another guest.

My Airbnb host Roberto, Dieneke, her Olympics torch, his 4 dogs, his girlfriend and another guest

This was Yoshi running with the torch.

Airbnb Torch Runner Yoshi from Japan

Roberto also had some great briefing sheets for his guests with simple ways of getting to the main attractions, including Christ the Redeemer.

Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer is one of the most beautiful places in Rio and the largest Art Deco sculpture in the world. The Brazilian architect Da Silva Costa was chosen to implement the project in Feb 1922. He worked with artist Carlos Oswald and French-polish sculptor Paul Landowski using thousands of triangular soapstone tiles that sit on a square pedestal base. It is 30 metres high and the outstretched arms are28 metres wide. It was completed in 1931 and restored in 2000.

The views from Christ the Redeemer are breath taking. No wonder the locals say that on the eight day God created Rio.

Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Copacabana Beach

Roberto’s Airbnb is only 10 minutes away from the beautify Copacabana beach with its stunning promenade. The Copacabana Promenade was designed in 1930 and rebuilt by the modernist landscape architect Burle Marx in 1970. The promenade is 4km long and not one piece is the same.

Burle Marx designed over 2000 parks and gardens most of them in Rio. During the Rio 2016 Olympics his landscapes will be the scene of the games’ cycling, running and Paralympic competitions.

Copacabana promenade by Burle Marx, Rio de Janeiro


Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio and the Olympics

Kobra is creating a Guiness Book of Record breaking mural called ‘ethnicities’ for the Rio 2016 Games. It will consist of depictions of five indigenous faces from five continents – based on the Olympic Rings – being painted in rejuvenated port area. It will be 190 metre long and 15.5 metres tall, the massive work of art is nearly 3,000 square metres in size and will be unveiled on 30 July . This video shows the making of the mural and its completion.

Kobra is also one of 13 Artists (of whom 12 Brazilian and one Columbian) who designed official Olympic Posters for the Rio 2016 Games.

The street where the mural is being created will be part of the Olympic Boulevard, a huge ‘live site’ stretching about three kilometres and offering Olympic coverage on big screens, three stages with live music, street art performances, nightly firework displays, food trucks and activities for kids.

The centre-piece of the revitalised region is Praça Mauá, which hosts spaceship-like Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow).

Museum of Tomorrow, Rio de Janeiro

Museum of Tomorrow, Rio de Janeiro

The Museum of Tomorrow is based in what has become an expansive, waterfront square, accessible by a new tram system, known as the VLT is Portuguese.

The Transport Legacy

In addition to the new tram system the main legacy will be the tube. The extension of one of the Metro Lines will connect Rio de Janeiro with Barra where the Olympics Park will be located. One of the new stations created will be located at the entrance of one of the biggest favelas (Shanty towns) Rocinha, enabling them to get to work quicker.  It is called Sao Conrado but there is a move now to call the station Rocinha. During the Olympics this extension can only be used by those attending the games but shortly after the games it will be open to all.

Roberto my Airbnb host said that he was confident that despite all the setbacks the Games will be fabulous and the tube extension alone would be a tremendous legacy for Brazil for the benefit of all, both poor and rich.

Thank you Airbnb and thank you Helena for being such a great companion in Passo Fundo.

Rio de Janeiro, Olympic Games Rio 2016


Opening Ceremony Rio 2016 Olympics, Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Lighting of the Cauldrum by Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, Opening Ceremony, Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro.

Update since running with the torch

So far it has been great fun having bought the torch, being able to share the torch with so many others. From my friend Manuel and his son Fabio, to my GPs children, Airbnb guests and staff at the Airbnb office. Here is a selection of them.

Manuel and his son Fabio with my Olympic Torch, 2016


Showing the Torch to the Airbnb London office


Airbnb guest Maria Teresa with my Olympics Torch


Airbnb guests Yuli and Daniel with my Olympics Torch

Justin from Virgin Media with my torch. His niece had run with the torch in London 2012

Meeting the other Airbnb torch bearers

The five Airbnb torch bearers had actually never met. They ran at different times and at different locations. So we arranged to meet and have a picture taken at the Airbnb Open Event in Los Angeles in 2016 (17-19 November). Four of the five were there. In addition to myself Joe Gebbia from Airbnb, Virginia from Rio de Janeiro and James from Los Angeles.  Yoshi of Japan was still on his round the world tour and was only there in spirit.

Airbnb torch bearers in Airbnb Open Los Angeles 2016. Joe Gebbia (Airbnb), Virgina (Rio de Janeiro), James (Los Angeles), Dieneke


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