November 2000

Olympic Shames

Supreme humiliation: the Cameroon soccer team
playing with only nine players against Brazil's 11,
beat up Brazil sending the Brazilian team back home
in the quarter finals. Since 1976 Brazil had not failed to bring home
at least a gold medal in every Olympic Game.


Only once before did Brazil win more medals than the 12 conquered during the recent Sydney Olympic Games. They were six silver medals and six bronze. Invariably, however, the Brazilian media considered the Sydney campaign a big failure. It happens that Brazilians were expecting several gold medals. Ten times the Brazilian athletes participated in a final, but not even once were they able to get the highest position on the podium.

Since there is a slant in favor of gold medals, the country ended up classified in 52nd place behind Indonesia, Colombia, Mozambique and Cameroon, among others. Without the gold criterion, the 12 medals Brazil won would place it as number 22 in the Olympic ranking.

In what was a supreme humiliation to the national pride, the Cameroon soccer team, although playing with only nine players against Brazil's 11, beat up Brazil sending the yellow-jersey soccer team, a favorite for a gold medal, back home in the quarter finals. Other sports in which Brazilians were expecting to win a gold medal: beach volley (male and female categories), equestrian and two different categories of yachting. Since 1976 when the Olympics happened in Montreal, Canada, Brazil had not failed to bring home at least a gold medal in every Olympic Game.

When you consider all the facts, though, Sydney wasn't such a disaster. Compared to the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, for example, Brazil could even boast of a better performance according to the size of its track and field delegation. There were 41 Brazilian athletes in Atlanta and they won a bronze medal besides being able to have two runners in the final 400 m with hurdles. This time around, the country sent only 18 athletes who were able to win a silver medal in the 4x100 m relay competition and another three of them made it to the finals. CBAt (Confederação Brasileira de Atletismo—Brazilian Confederation of Track and Field) decided to lower the number of participants in an effort to improve the level of the athletes sent to the games.

Water and Horseback

After winning three medals for swimming in Atlanta and having received the label of "the best team Brazil has ever assembled", there were high expectations for the Brazilian swimming team. They had an auspicious start with a bronze medal in the men's 4x100 free style relay. In Atlanta, four years ago, there were three medals for swimming, including a silver one for Gustavo Borges in the 200 meters. The results can be considered even frustrating when, by the swimmers' own admission, they had all the backing they could expect during their training.

In equestrian, Brazil again, as in Atlanta, was able to place three competitors in the finals. Rodrigo Pessoa, Brazil's brightest star in equestrian and a favorite do win a gold in Sydney was not helped by Baloubet du Rouet, his horse, who refused to jump three of the hurdles during the final competition. Still Brazil ended up winning a bronze medal for team show jumping.

Before losing to Cameroon, the Brazilian male soccer team got close to the goal several times, but was unable to score against a team short by two men. The defeat precipitated the fall of head coach Wanderley Luxemburgo, who, in addition to being a disaster heading the soccer team, is involved in a case of tax evasion in Brazil. As for the women's beach volleyball, Brazilians were winning by three points, but lost several chances to defeat the Australians. The same happened to their male counterparts who lost to the Americans after having an advantage of three points on the first set.

Why all these defeats? The Brazilian media went to psychologists and other behavior experts to find an answer. "For some reason we notice an unexplainable block to conquer a gold medal," psychoanalyst Paulo Sternick told Jornal do Brasil adding: "This brings a good opportunity for society to reflect about what is happening in sport, as part of the Brazilian culture. There is the unmistakable impression that who wins the gold, independently from victories or defeats, are the sports bosses. The ethics of the Brazilian sport is highly dubious and this reflects in the morale of the players in action."

For psychologist João Ricardo Cozac, president of the Centro de Estudo e Pesquisa da Psicologia do Esporte (Center for the Study and Research of Sport Psychology), the two losses on the beach volley show a "clear fear of success" by the Brazilian teams. Cozac criticized the methods used to prepare the athletes. Among other practices, they had to walk on burning coal in order do acquire confidence. "To me, walking on embers only burns your foot," said Cozac.

The psychological preparation of the Brazilian Olympic athletes was made by Roberto Shinyashiki, the psychologist from the COB (Comitê Olímpico Brasileiro—Brazilian Olympic Committee). Shinyashiki is a successful self-help book author. Two of his books, O Sucesso É Ser Feliz (Success Is to Be Happy) and Sem Medo de Vencer (Without Fear of Losing) more than once have been in the bestsellers' list.

Shinyashiki does not take any responsibility for the defeats and thinks there is much more to the losses than psychological problems. Says he: "It would be completely irresponsible to justify with a sole factor the result of an Olympic final. The volleyball players are used to handle decisive games. There is a series of determining factors to explain the results."

As other critics have pointed, the real problem is that Brazil—with a few exceptions like men's soccer and swimming this year —does not invest in sports and does not have centers to form high performing athletes. The few medals it wins are the result of individual talent who are able to excel in categories in which there is little competition. Not even Carlos Arthur Nuzman, COB's president, is taking any blame for the defeats. "I don't want to beg for money or blame anyone, but we need to create centers of excellence for forming and training athletes in such sports as judo, box, cycling and track and field."

Nothing new there. For at least 20 years now, after every Olympics, there are complaints, plans and promises that things this time will change. You can bet we will be replaying this tune four years from now.

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