Fernando Echavarri, who won a gold medal in Tornado-class sailing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was robbed at gunpoint along with two other members of Spain’s sailing team as they walked to breakfast on Friday morning in Santa Teresa, a hilltop neighborhood in Rio frequented by tourists.
Echavarri told Stephen Wade of the Associated Press that he and his teammates were accosted by five people who pointed pistols at them, taking cellphones “and other minor electronic gear,” Wade reports.
“We were a bit naive, a bit too daring and we are lucky to have survived,” Echavarri said as he trained Monday at the Olympic sailing venue. “We were too confident, and being confident in Rio is not a good thing.
“We made a big mistake,” Echavarri continued. “We should have caught a taxi, taken a car and avoided a thing like this. We have to be careful, but the city needs more policing.”
According to the AP, about 85,000 soldiers and police will provide security for the Rio Olympics, more than twice as many as in London four years ago. But Rio organizers also have recently cut about $550 million, or 20 percent, from the Games’ security budget because of the recession-hit Brazilian economy.
Muggings are common in Rio, and Echavarri told Wade that it was the second time he had been the victim of a crime in the city after a 2009 incident while he was there for the Volvo Ocean Race. The Santa Teresa neighborhood is described as one of the city’s safer areas, and Echavarri and his teammates were staying there because of its proximity to the Olympic sailing venue, about a 20-minute walk away (the Olympic Village, where most of the athletes will stay, is about an hour’s drive away). But there have been a number of incidents near Olympic venues over the past few years. According to Inside the Games, a 57-year-old local doctor was attacked in May 2015 while cycling close to the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, where the rowing and canoe sprint events will be held. He later died from his injuries. A 19-year-old French cyclist also was attacked in the area around the same time.
Two years ago, British 470-class sailors Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark were mugged at knifepoint while walking back to their hotel during an Olympic training camp in Rio. They were robbed of their possessions, including their sailing gear.
Earlier this month, Brazilian soccer legend Rivaldo urged tourists to avoid the Rio Olympics after a 17-year-old girl was shot dead in an attack by an armed gang as she was driven to the airport by her father.
“Your life will be in danger here,” he wrote in an Instagram post. “This is without even speaking about the state of public hospitals and all the Brazilian political mess. Only God can change the situation in our Brazil.”