The iconic Christ the Redeemer statue looms in the distance, and the Morro da Miniera favela is the near background for the Sombodromo — a venue best known for samba schools parading here during the festival of Carnival.
In this uniquely Brazilian setting on Saturday, archer Zach Garrett from faraway and tiny Wellington, Mo. (pop: 812), consummated an implausible journey that began with his grandfather carving a bow for the then 4-year-old.
Seventeen years later, the fascination that morphed into single-minded dedication reaped an Olympic silver medal in the team archery competition.
Another medal could come in the individual tournament later in the week for the third-ranked archer in the world — who would be wearing his lucky Royals hat for all this if it were allowed.
“In any other tournament, winning silver feels like losing gold,” Garrett said, beaming. “In the Olympics, winning silver feels like winning silver.”
That sense of solace also was in part because Team USA was defeated by a remarkable adversary, the Republic of Korea, which registered perfect 10s on 15 of 18 arrows to win the gold-medal match 6-0.
“We shot our best, and that’s just how it (went),” Garrett said. “Sometimes, that happens yet.”
Enhancing the silver-medal performance was honorable grace in defeat.
Reflecting a certain camaraderie with their rivals, Garrett and teammates Brady Ellison and Jake Kaminski immediately clapped for the Korean team.
Then they made bowing gestures and hugged them.
That was about respect, Garrett said.
Something he earned himself long ago, of course, but literally and figuratively took to a new tier on Saturday as he stood on the podium a silver medalist.
For the rest of his life, that will distinguish him.
Not to mention Wellington, where an Olympic flag already has been flapping just below the U.S. flag in the city square.
“So amazing to watch,” Mindy Stewart Hampton posted on social media. She was the Wellington-Napoleon High School principal for most of Zach's high school years, and this year is her first as district superintendent. “We are yelling, jumping and crying with excitement!”
In the stands at the Sambodromo, meanwhile, the Garrett family and his girlfriend, Mel Devencenzi, were thrilled but more outwardly subdued.
Maybe that was because they’d had a crazy trip here after their initial flight Thursday was canceled.
The euphoria they felt about seeing him compete in his first Olympics was punctured, particularly when they initially were told that they’d be stuck another day.
Ultimately, though, the airline came around to what Garrett’s mother, Robin, called “my way of thinking” — and got them here via first class by Saturday morning.
So Robin, husband Andy and daughter Audrey and Mel were there well in time for his first official day of Olympic competition, a quarterfinal match against Indonesia set up by ranking rounds on Friday.
They were there to see Zach’s first arrow be as true as could be for a 10, some minutes after he’d come out to look at the crowd because he knew “the pressure would help me.”
“Hot damn,” Robin Garrett said in the stands, smiling.
One of the best seats in the house, in fact, was to be alongside her as all this unfolded. After the team ousted Indonesia 6-2 and zapped China 6-0 to get to the final, she stood and exulted in that implication.
“They’re going home with something!” she said, though it wasn’t until minutes before the gold-medal match that she said, “OK, this is starting to hit me.”
So while Zach figured to lie low and cocoon himself for the individual competition ahead, she was planning to make sure it also hit her parents — and particularly her father, Vic Mutz, back home in Pennsylvania.
It was his carved bow, of course, that got this all started, and even if they don’t have all the modern amenities like wifi or a cell phone capable of texting she would make sure she was “GOING” to reach them Saturday night.
From almost the moment Zach took hold of that bow, one the family still has, he was smitten with it. That day, he walked the family farm with his grandfather, just seeing how far he could shoot.
Later, he’d compete in 4-H, and through a series of seemingly random coincidences find a pivotal mentor in Steve Cornell, an Olympic development coach.
Ultimately, though, this was all about will, which is why Garrett spent hours and hours in the cold and at night shooting arrows from an addition to the machine shed his mother engineered.
The target in the cow pasture was 70 meters away there.
Just like it was here, as it turns out.
Garrett was able to focus on that very notion, thanks to his residence at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., and his immersion in sports psychology over the last year.
And suddenly Wellington, Mo., and Rio de Janeiro will be connected forever in his life.
As she watched her son and his teammates congratulate the Korean team, Robin Garrett knew that, too.
“They’re not going to be down about it,” she said.
And even if it was a momentary disappointment, she laughed.
“Still,” she said, “it was a hell of a day.”