Olive Branch Extends to Rio

Brazil is a major olive oil consumer with deep cultural ties to Portugal and the olive's symbolism runs throughout Olympic history. And it just so happens Olympic athletes eat it too.

The front of every Rio Olympics medal features an olive leaves as a major design element.
Aug. 10, 2016
By Wendy Logan
The front of every Rio Olympics medal features an olive leaves as a major design element.

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Olympians in Rio might not be coat­ing their entire bod­ies with the stuff as their pre­de­ces­sors in 776 B.C. did, but olive oil will still play a role in these Summer Games. 

From the nutri­tional regimes fol­lowed by ath­letes to the sym­bolic sig­nif­i­cance of the olive branch, to the grow­ing role of Brazil as a major export des­ti­na­tion for EVOO, the olive tree, its fruit, and its oil are there at the event and through­out its host country.

Brazil’s close his­tor­i­cal ties to Portugal and Portuguese cui­sine form the nation’s love of olive oil. A blog post on Flavors of Brazil notes that in Portuguese-influ­enced Brazilian dishes, olive oil is almost always the only veg­etable oil used. Salt cod (bacal­hau) with­out a lib­eral sprin­kling of olive oil is unthink­able, and Portuguese-inspired soups and stews invari­ably employ olive oil. But even dishes which can’t be traced back to European roots, like the Afro-Brazilian dishes typ­i­cal of Bahian cook­ing, often call for olive oil”

It’s a good bet that many of the world’s ath­letes are includ­ing good fats like olive oil in their train­ing diets. U.S. track and field stars, long dis­tance run­ners Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan most cer­tainly do. Flanagan wrote a book on the sub­ject. Run Fast, Eat Slow, extolls the virtues of fats like those found in nuts and olive oil as crit­i­cal to opti­mum performance. 

Brazil is the fourth-largest importer of olive oil in the world. According to the International Olive Council, as of 2015, it was esti­mated that the country’s imports neared 80,000 tons, with the major­ity com­ing from the Mediterranean and the bulk of it vir­gin grade.

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In a 2014 Olive Oil Times arti­cle, Charlie Higgins described the emer­gence of Brazil as a pro­ducer of olive oil too, cit­ing cli­mate and soil pro­duc­tiv­ity sim­i­lar to European coun­tries. Though still in its infancy, domes­tic pro­duc­tion has taken off in recent years. The bulk of this growth is occur­ring in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, which enjoys a sim­i­lar cli­mate and soil type to neigh­bor­ing Uruguay, another coun­try with tremen­dous poten­tial as an olive oil pro­ducer and exporter.” 

More recently, Lisa Radinovsky reported on a gift pre­sented to Brazil by Greece, as an olive branch from the Monumental Olive Tree” in Vouve, Crete was cut and offered as a sym­bolic ges­ture of peace. 

Considered by some to be the old­est olive tree in the world, pos­si­bly dat­ing back thou­sands of years, the tree’s branches have been used in cer­e­monies since the Athens Games in 2004. Since ancient times, olive branches from sacred groves have been used to crown the heads of Olympic victors.


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