Spain’s Olympic gold-medal winning sailor Fernando Echavarri said he was fortunate to have escaped with his life after being robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro as he and two fellow Spaniards walked to breakfast.
“We were a bit naive, a bit too daring and we are lucky to have survived,” Echavarri told The Associated Press as he trained on Monday at Rio’s Olympic sailing venue. “We were too confident, and being confident in Rio is not a good thing.”
Echavarri and two other members of the Spanish sailing team were robbed Friday morning when five young men -- “not more than 16 years old,” Echavarri said -- poked pistol barrels into the Spaniards’ ribs and chests. Echavarri said they handed over their cellphones and other minor electronic gear, satisfying their assailants who ran off.
The Spaniards, who have been in Rio for almost two weeks, were staying in Santa Teresa, a hilltop neighborhood popular with tourists and dotted with restaurants and bars, and a 20-minute walk downhill to the sailing venue. “We made a big mistake,” Echavarri said. “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.”
Echavarri, who won gold in the 2008 Olympics, said he was also robbed at knife point in 2009 in the Copacabana Beach neighborhood while competing in the Volvo Ocean race. He called that situation “controlled” with experienced thieves who knew what they wanted. Last week was different. “This was a completely uncontrolled situation,” he said.
Street violence is endemic in Rio, a city separated by the wealthy, who live in the south and west of the city, and the poor who live in hilltop slums. Security is near the top of a long list of problems plaguing Rio with the Olympics opening Aug. 5, including the Zika virus and water pollution.
Andy Hunt, who heads the World Sailing governing body, was in Rio on Monday and called the robbery “a very, very scary experience.” Hunt said he would ask city officials and organizers for more security, particularly around yacht clubs that line Guanabara Bay, the sailing venue.