The long march to the Marcha | A Column By Len Johnson

It took us a while to get to watch Jared Tallent in the 50k walk.

About a week, to be more precise. We set off for the Olympic walks course around noon on 12 August and we got there around 11am on 19 August.

It’s not only the athletes who flirt with triumph and disaster at an Olympic Games. The same applies to spectators. On a much smaller scale, of course, though perspective is often lacking at the time.

Our long march to the marcha masculina 50k began with an unsuccessful attempt to get to the marcha masculina 20k. Wisely, Olympic organisers set aside a whole morning for the longer event (which was followed by the women’s 20k), but the men’s 20k was scheduled in between sessions at the stadium.

Therein lay the seeds of the problem. The Olympic athletics stadium, Estadio Nilton Santos aka Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange aka Engenho de Dentro is way out in one direction (which actual direction does not matter), the walks course at the picturesque seaside township of Pontal is to blazes in another.

No problem. That’s what the search engine was invented for. Having found the Rio transport guide back home in Oz, I plugged in the starting point and destination and came up with three options. The best two were pretty much the same – the 693 bus, advertised journey time of around 50 minutes if you got the stopping all stations, 10-15 less on the expresso.

Too easy-o. But pennies started to drop like so much Rio spring rain almost as soon as we left the stadium. Nary a one of the millions of volunteers could direct us to the walk. No problem. We had the bus number, our internet map showed the bus station just a few minutes’ walk from the stadium. We walked in ever-increasing circles but no bus station.

Retreating to the train station and about to give up, we were advised by a helpful local that the 693 to Alverado departed from the stop just over the road and round the corner. The beguilingly simple option beckoned again. Another local – a young woman who would ultimately turn out to be our guardian angel – got us onto the right bus.

In the meantime, a 691 – which we had been advised was the actual number of the express bus, had come past. We were on the point of getting on, until I saw the route passed through what I had read was one of Rio’s most notorious favelas. What’s 10 minutes extra when you miss out on that, so the stopping all stations it was.

Within a few minutes, things were obviously going awry. We got on, the bust took off, and 15 minutes later ran into a huge traffic jam. We edged our way across, klaxon horn blasting away, into the Olympic transport lane, but matters scarcely improved. By the time we had used up the allocated 50 minutes we appeared to be roughly in the middle of nowhere.

Thankfully, our initial helper was still aboard. Map in hand, we swayed our way down the aisle to her seat. First she showed us where we were, then assured us that, eventually, wwe were heading in roughly the right direction, but would need two more buses and another 50 minutes to get to the walk. She looked up the routes and connections for us on her phone and wrote them on the map

Simple maths told us that even with the most optimistic connections, Dane Bird-Smith and Rhydian Cowley would have to have eminently forgettable performances if we were to see them walk a step. Back to our guide. How would we get back to Ipanema, we asked.

Finally, we reached the terminus only to be given three different route numbers – our guide’s, plus two more – back to the metro station to start our journey home. Turns out all of them were correct – sort of, and we reached our apartment at the 78-minute mark of the walk, flicking on the telly just in time to see Dane take the bronze.

Fortuitously, in coming back we had rehearsed most of the trip that would take us to the 50k walk. That went a lot more smoothly – though not totally without hiccups. A silver for Jared, damn near a gold, and we even bumped into Dane and Rhydian.

If only it had been so easy the first time! It’s hard walking 50km, but sometimes it’s even harder getting there.