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By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Rio de Janeiro city and Olympic officials joined with athletes and municipal school students last week to unveil the Athletes’ Forest at Parque Radical in Deodoro. At the ceremony, one hundred seedlings were planted in a six thousand square meter grassy knoll alongside Parque Radical, which was the site of the canoe slalom, mountain bike and BMX cycling competitions during the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Several members of the Brazilian women’s gymnastics team, including Flavia Saraiva, participated in the inauguration of the Athletes’ Forest at Parque Radical, photo by Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes and Rio 2016 President Carlos Arthur Nuzman were on hand at the ceremony and joined the athletes and students in the ceremonial planting.

“The Rio Games conveyed to the world a message about the challenges we face with global warming and the need to preserve nature,” said Mayor Paes. “Therefore, planting these seedlings is very symbolic and important, because it draws even more attention to the issue.”

Also participating in the planting was one of the stars of the Rio 2016 Games, Brazilian gymnast, Flávia Saraiva, or as she is commonly referred to by her legion of fans, Flavinha. In between posing for selfies with the throngs of excited students, the fan-favorite stressed her pride in seeing her country improve.

“It is really nice to see an initiative like this taking place in our country and to realize that Brazil is improving in every way,” exclaimed Flavinha. “It’ll be exciting to come back here and see that my seedling has flourished.”

At the inauguration, four different tree species among the one hundred seedlings were planted, including jequitibá, ipê, grumixama and pau-brasil. Next year, the site will receive twelve thousand seedlings of 207 different tree species.

Brazil, Brazil News, Rio de Janeiro
At the inauguration, 100 seedlings were planted, but soon the site will be home to the 12,000 seedlings planted by the Olympic athletes at the opening ceremony, photo by Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil.

These are the same seedlings that were planted by the Olympic athletes during the Rio 2016 opening ceremony. Since the opening ceremony, the Brazilian environmental engineering firm, Biovert, has been cultivating the twelve thousand seedlings at its facility in Silva Jardim, a small town in Rio’s countryside.

For the Olympic athletes who could not participate in the opening ceremony, Wednesday’s planting was particularly emotional. “We couldn’t go to the opening ceremony and plant a tree like the other athletes because we had to compete just a few days after, and the rule says we can’t go in these cases,” explained Brazilian gymnast Jade Barbosa.

“Watching this initiative really moved me,” she added. “Being called here today was an honor. I never thought I’d be a part of it and I am very happy.”

At 500,000 square meters, Parque Radical is the second largest recreational area in the city, behind only Parque do Flamengo (Flamengo Park) in Aterro do Flamengo. In December 2015, the site’s water attractions were opened to the public, benefiting the more than 1.5 million residents of the surrounding neighborhoods of Campo dos Afonsos, Deodoro, Guadalupe, Jardim Sulacap, Magalhães Bastos, Parque Anchieta, Realengo, Ricardo de Albuquerque and Vila Militar.

The site was closed in March 2016 to prepare for the Games and was reopened to the public earlier this month. Opening hours, subject to change, are Fridays through Sundays, from 9AM to 5PM. Admission is free, but children under twelve years old may only enter if accompanied by a guardian.

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