I made it to the Olympics six days ago. My name is John Rathouz and I’m a professional golf caddie from Nebraska who got on a plane last Wednesday evening in Omaha, and on Thursday afternoon walked straight into the most incredible sporting spectacle in the world - the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Thank you Seamus Power, my world class boss from Ireland, and thank you destiny. Here are some highlights and insight so far…
The last 10 minutes of the 20 hour plane flight were amazing flying into this beautiful city that dances with the ocean. Then I was directed to my bus to the Olympic Village and met Amanda Carr, a badass girl from the U.S. who is competing for Thailand in BMX bike racing. We compared professional notes, took a selfie, and wished each other luck before walking into the Village.
There’s no way my description can do the Olympic Village justice. I’ve never seen anything like it before. I’ve caddied at the Masters and that was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in golf, but this, this is unlike anything in sports. There’s athletes from all over the world - 10,500 of them plus support staff - in this makeshift town of 30 apartment buildings, a food hall 4 football fields long, athletic fields, fitness center, general stores, hangouts, and of course, McDonald’s. It’s the best of the best, everyone looks fit, all different shapes and sizes, speaking every language imaginable, all in different colored track suits with their country’s name on them. It’s very surreal to wake up to every morning, seeing athletes training right in front of you, going to and from events. It’s busy. Everyone’s an Olympian. The food hall itself might be the most impressive example of the intermingling. The food gets a bronze but as the Olympics go that’s not too bad.
The first night Seamus and I wandered around and ended up at one of the hangouts playing ping pong and I ended up playing a game with a fit blonde girl from Poland, Arleta, and as she told me, she was competing in the 57kg Judo a few days later. Her English was good and she was fun and I ended up watching her compete on TV a few days later and she went to overtime and got put in a vicious leg lock to lose.
The following night, Friday, I didn’t have a ticket to the Opening Ceremony but I hung around to send the Irish team off to the ceremony, meeting some of the team as they stood around outside. New Zealand is in our apartment too, and Spain and the Netherlands each have an apartment next door. It goes on and on. It was awesome to see the countries in the gear on their way off to the Maracanã. And it’s been really cool to be Irish for the week or so. The Irish people are really fun to be around, funny, don’t take themselves too seriously and you better have thick skin because you’re bound to get teased. I ended up watching the ceremonies with members of the Equestrian team who were to be competing the following day. It was amazing to see the amount of people from all countries that didn’t go to the ceremonies and many don’t arrive until closer to their events. For example many from the track and field events are just getting to Rio here today (Tuesday).
The ceremony really pumped me up and I woke up early Saturday morning and took the bus to the golf course to walk it front to back for the first time. The course is brilliant, bold and thought out, with a variety of holes that fit very well into the rugged beachy environment. It’s always fun to figure out a new golf course and everyone will be doing just that this week because nobody’s ever played it, save a few Brazilians in a test event months ago. Seamus slept in and we played nine holes that afternoon. I think we were one of the first to play it and I definitely think I was the first to walk through the Olympic Village with a golf bag - ever - since golf hasn’t been in the Olympics in over 100 years. Seamus and I got a kick out of that.
Sunday night he and I and our legendary captain Paul McGinley of Ryder Cup fame, went to support the Irish field hockey team v Netherlands. I’d never been to a hockey game before and it was my first official taste of Olympic competition. The skill level was impressive, especially that of the Netherlands, and although they waxed the Irish team, it was a thrill to sit in the section of 200 or so Irish fans and join in the cheering - loud and funny chants. After the hockey we got in a taxi cab and rode 40 minutes through some of the famous hillside favelas (ghettos) of Rio and ended up on Copacabana beach to watch the beach volleyball. This was the sport we were most looking forward to, as Seamus said, “for obvious reasons,” and it didn’t disappoint. We only stayed for the women’s portion and watched the Swiss take down Germany and the first part of Italy v Canada but the atmosphere of the open-air stadium on the beach was electric and fun. I love watching beach volleyball.
The next morning we were joined by our teammates, two of the class guys in golf, maybe the greatest Irish player in the history of the country, Padraig Harrington, and his caddie Ronan. Rory McIlroy doesn’t get top billing because he decided to drop out of the Olympics and we’re glad he did, as well as Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell. Thanks guys. We went to breakfast and watched them take in for the first time the people watching in the food hall that we were already veterans with. That night we all went to see the table tennis - some Irish team bonding. It was the quarterfinals of the men’s and women’s and we saw many of the top-10 in the world. The skill level is off the charts and the most impressive was Zhang from China - check later in the week - I bet he wins gold.
One of the big highlights of the week was our practice round today with Harrington. We really are a team even though it’s individual and the enthusiasm and support from anybody Irish is incredible to see. We learned so much today watching Harrington and both pros are on point right now, I really feel like they both could do well and medal. The linksy course is playing right into their Irish hands. Tonight was hilarious. Seamus, Ronan, McGinley and myself went and watched the finals of the weightlifting - unreal watching these guys put up 4x’s their weight, but it’s been us throwing our weight around by just flashing our athlete badges and walking straight in. The top-off was at the end of the night after watching the Chinese lifter get his gold, we left the arena, walked back to the Village and got into a bus to the aquatic center just in time to catch Michael Phelps’ 200m butterfly gold medal race. McGinley had been there before so he knew to flash our badge and suddenly we were in the training pool watching all the swimmers prep and right next to Phelps stretching out. Then the team starts chanting U.S.A., U.S.A. and off he goes like a boxer into the ring and here we are following right behind him, hahaha. We walked straight into the main pool, into some seats behind the start/finish line and watch Katie Ledecky win her gold medal and then saw the Phelps race. He dominated, it was brilliant. Then we got back on the bus here to the Village. I joked that we should have got a gold for our timing of everything.
What an incredible thing to be a part of - just a caddie from Omaha here at the Olympics. And we start playing golf for a gold medal in less than 36 hours. That’s going to be really fun. Stay tuned…
Thank you John for the photos and inside scoop on the inner workings of the Rio Olympics. We look forward to your next entry! Men's golf begins today (8/11) and runs through the weekend, while the women tee off Wednesday (8/17) morning. Every round of golf in these Olympic games is available to stream live at NBC. Click to read John's account of round 1 and round 2.