After three days of waiting, a 24-year-old black woman from one of Rio de Janeiro’s most troubled neighbourhoods has won Brazil’s first gold medal of the Rio 2016 Games, amid ecstatic scenes at Carioca Arena 2.
Here are five facts you might not know about Rafaela Silva, the athlete who lifted the spirits of the nation yesterday.
1. Born In The City Of God
Silva was born in Cidade de Deus, or City of God, the housing project in Rio de Janeiro that became notorious for social deprivation and gang violence. Now home to a large force of community police, the story of the neighbourhood was told by Brazilian film director Fernando Meirelles in the award-winning Cidade de Deus.
Meirelles was also one of the directors of the acclaimed opening ceremony of Rio 2016 on 5 August.
Silva said after her triumph on Monday that her victory showed children from her birthplace that they should believe in their dreams.
2. A Helping Hand From An Olympian
The Instituto Reação is a judo school located in the huge favela of Rocinha in southern Rio. Olympian judoka Flavio Canto, bronze medallist at Athens 2004, set up the institute to provide new hope and opportunities to underprivileged youngsters from the city. Teachers at the school were quick to spot Silva’s potential and transform her into an Olympian in her own right.
3. Appetite For Life
Like Usain Bolt, Silva is an Olympic champion who has had little patience for the fads of nutritionists. Pizzas and hamburgers are her diet of choice; junk food, she admits. In the run-up to Rio 2016 she made the effort to switch to a healthier diet.
4. Disaster In London
At London 2012, Silva was disqualified for an illegal hold in a preliminary round. Worse than that, internet users then turned on her, calling her a ‘monkey’. In despair, she even considered abandoning the sport before intensive sessions with a sports psychologist helped her rediscover her self-esteem and re-ignited her will to compete.
5. World Champion
Silva has come back from the nadir of London to the triumph of Rio with the same single-minded power that overpowers opponents on the mat. Just one year later, in the world championships of 2013, she fought her way to gold, Silva is now the only Brazilian judoka in history to be both Olympic and World Champion – an incredible achievement for an athlete who has beaten all the odds to stand at the top of her sport. Now all of Brazil is at her feet.