Brazil’s Olympic Legacy
Whenever an Olympic Games happens, I usually publish a blog relating to the host city or the host country. In this case, I’ll be focusing on Brazil’s past Olympic success and it has a lot. Brazil has won a total of 108 Olympic medals: 23 of them gold. That ranks them 33rd for all-time medals at the Summer Olympics. That’s also the most of any South American nation.
OFF TO A START
The very first Olympic Games Brazil sent an Olympic team to was the Antwerp Games of 1920 and they debuted with a bang, literally. Brazil won a gold, silver and bronze in various shooting events. The gold going to Guilherme Paraense in the rapid fire pistol event.
After the Antwerp Games, Brazil’s Olympic results consisted of woes up to World War II. They sent a 12-athlete team to Paris in 1924, a 67-athlete team to Los Angeles in 1932 which I will focus later on, and a 73-athlete team to the Berlin Games of 1936. All of which resulted in not a single medal won. Nevertheless there were some rays of hope. The biggest being from swimmer Maria Lenk. Just after finishing out of the final at her event in Berlin, she would set a world record in her event. She made history as the first Brazilian swimmer ever to hold a swimming world record. The Maria Lenk Aquatic Centre which was built for the 2007 Pan Am Games and will host three aquatic sports for Rio 2016 was named in her honor.
HARD TIMES FOR 1932
One of Brazil’s most famous Olympic stories is not exactly a positive one. It involved their Olympic team in 1932 as the world was going through the Great Depression at the time. Brazil was also hit hard during the Great Depression and their Olympic team were also feeling the heat. In order to raise funds for the team, the athletes would sell coffee beans at every port their ship, the Itaquicê, would dock at. Once the shipped docked at San Pedro, the authorities at the Port Of Los Angeles charged Brazil $1 for each athlete they let off the ship. The Brazilian team first let off the athletes with the best medal chances and swimmer Maria Lenk who would become the first Brazilian female to compete at the Olympics. However it wasn’t all over. The Itaquicê then sailed to San Francisco to sell more beans to fund the other athletes. It was successful enough to give the water polo, rowing and athletics athletes enough funds to compete. However the lack of funds meant 15 athletes could not live out their Olympic dreams and thus sail back to Brazil on the Itaquicê. The best result for the team was a 4th place in rowing.
SLOW BUT SURE IMPROVEMENTS
After World War II, Brazil would get better in sports at the Olympic Games but it would mostly go unnoticed for decades. The biggest notice came in the men’s triple jump. Even before the Helsinki Games in 1952, Adhemar Ferreira da Silva held the world record in the men’s triple jump. In Helsinki, winning was an ease for da Silva as he won by almost 10 inches and set a new world record in the process. Da Silva would repeat as Olympic champion in 1956. Da Silva would prove himself to be one of the greats of triple-jumping as his career would not only include two gold medals but he’d also break the world record five times in his career. Da Silva would prove to be inspiring to Brazil as there would be two other male triple jumpers who would win Olympic medals and break the world record too.
Unfortunately for Brazil, Da Silva would prove to be Brazil’s only Olympic champion up until 1980. With the exception of a silver in the triple jump in 1968, Brazil’s Olympic teams after World War II would come home with nothing but bronze in that meantime. Sure they’d always have at least one medal but a single silver and the rest bronze was pretty much it from 1960 to 1976. It’s not to say it was all bad as Brazil would expand its abilities to win medals in other sports like basketball, swimming, sailing and judo.
A BREAKTHROUGH IN 1980
The boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980 may have kept other nations at home but Brazil didn’t cave into the pressure. Their participation at the Moscow Games boosted its sporting confidence. The team won its first gold medals since Da Silva: two in sailing. These Games would later open the doors to Brazilians in sailing as success would continue. Brazil has won a total of 17 medals in sailing: six of them gold. The team in 1980 would also win bronzes in swimming and triple-jumping.
1980 would prove to be a boost of confidence to their Olympians as more success would follow. Los Angeles in 1984 would be the stage for Joaquim Cruz as he won gold in the 800m: Brazil’s first gold in a running event. Brazil would also win an additional five silver and two bronze at those Games. Possibly making amends for 1932. Medals came in judo, volleyball, sailing, swimming and their first-ever men’s football medal: a silver. Up until 1984, professionals weren’t allowed to compete at the Olympics which meant Brazil could only send ‘diluted’ teams to the Olympics which kept them out of the medals. Professionals were allowed to compete at the Olympics for the first time in 1984 and it opened the floodgates to Brazil–although not completely– to send better football teams to the Olympics. Dunga was part of the silver medal-winning 1984 team.
The Seoul Games of 1988 would give Brazil additional success as the team would win a total of six medals including their first ever gold in judo to Half-Heavyweight Aurelio Miguel Fernandez. This would open the doors to other judokas of Brazil as Brazil has won a total of 18 Olympic medals in judo including three gold. Brazil having the biggest Japanese diaspora outside of Japan may have a lot to do with it. Additional medals came in sailing, football (featuring greats Bebeto, Careca and Romario) and athletics. One noteworthy medalist was sprinter Robson da Silva. He’s considered to be the best South American sprinter ever. His bronze in the 200m in Seoul came just five days after running in the 100m dash: considered by most to be “the dirtiest race in Olympic history.” Robson was actually one of two with the most justifiable cases of being clean athletes. I like what he’s always said: “Sure I didn’t dope and I didn’t win all that much, but I sleep well every night.”
1992 would only be a case of three medals in three different sports but it was still a good showing for Brazil as it was their second Games where they returned home with two golds: in man’s volleyball and in judo. The volleyball gold would be key as it would pave the way for future success for the Brazilian team at the Olympics.
1996 AND THE BRAZILIAN BREAKTHROUGH
As Brazil’s economy would grow over time, so would their athletic prowess. Ever since the 1996 Games in Atlanta, the Brazilian Olympic team would always leave each of the last five Games with at least ten medals or more. In fact 70 of the 109 total medals Brazil has won before the Rio Games were won in the previous five Summer Olympic Games. Atlanta was the very first sign of the Brazilian sports boom. The nation won a best-ever total of 15 medals including 3 gold. The introduction of beach volleyball led to Brazil taking the top 2 spots in the women’s category. They also had continued success in sailing, judo, football (featuring Ronaldo) and swimming but they also won their first ever equestrian medals as well as their first medals ever won by female athletes.
2000 was a case where Brazil didn’t win a single gold medal but still left Sydney with a total of 12 medals. Success continued in swimming, track, volleyball, judo, equestrian, sailing and volleyball. They sure made up for their no-gold disappointment in Athens in 2004 with five golds of their ten medals: their most golds ever. Actually it was originally four golds but a bizarre doping situation led to five. In equestrian show jumping, Rodrigo Pessoa finished second to Ireland’s Cian O’Connor. However it was later revealed months later that the doping sample from O’Connor’s horse went missing and was finally tested in November of 2004 resulting in a positive test. That bumped Pessoa up to Olympic champion: Brazil’s first ever equestrian gold medalist. Bizarre but glad it was finally set straight. Another example of Brazilian sportsmanship came in the men’s marathon. Vanderlei de Lima was leading the race when out of nowhere, an Irish defrocked priest hounded him and disrupted his run. Fortunately de Lima was able to get back to running and finish third. When he received his bronze medal, he was also given the de Coubertin award for fair and courageous play.
2008 in Beijing saw their Olympic prowess taken another step further as they won three golds and a best-ever 16 medals. First-ever golds for Brazil came from swimmer Cesar Cielo Filho and long jumper Maurren Maggi in women’s athletics. This was also the first Olympics where both the men’s and women’s football teams won medals: silver for the women and bronze for the men. London 2012 was another increase in the medal haul with a best-ever 17 medals including three gold. The women’s volleyball team repeated as Olympic champions but the biggest gold-medal surprise came from gymnast Arthur Zanetti on the rings as he won Brazil’s first-ever gymnastics medal: gold on the rings. The team also won three medals in boxing–their first since 1968–and Yane Marques became the first Brazilian to win a modern pentathlon medal when she won silver.
A footnote to ad: Brazil has competed in every winter Olympics since the Albertville Games of 1992. Their best result is a ninth in snowboarding back in 2006.
No kidding Brazil wants to give their home country something to be proud of. They will field a team of 465 athletes in 29 sports and they hope to give Brazil its best-ever medal total. The men’s football team has brought Neymar–who was part of Brazil’s silver medal-winning team in 2012– on the squad. Marta is back on the women’s squad. And a unique situation in sailing where two of Torben Grael’s children–Marco and Martine– are competing in the sailing events.
As the athletes in Brazil compete in Rio de Janeiro, they will compete with a sense of pride. They will also compete having a set of heroes they’ve grown up admiring and idolizing and hopefully create new heroes for the next generation. The stage will be set.
DISCLAIMER: I know the Olympics have been going on for a week and a half and Brazil has won a lot of medals but I chose to exclude the results in Rio for the sake of keeping this blog ‘evergreen.’
WIKIPEDIA: Brazil At The Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<Brazil At The Olympics>
WIKIPEDIA: Brazil At The 1932 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<Brazil at the 1932 Summer Olympics>