We’ve never won so many medals

Atlanta has revealed to the world and to Brazilians themselves an unknown
Brazil which boldly went where no other Brazilian had ever gone before. There was
an explosion of talent in the Olympic fields and the three medals won in the
previous Olympic Games in Barcelona have turned into 15 in the United States. Now
the country wants to host the Olympics of 2004 in Rio.

Alessandra Dalevi

The 220 Brazilian Olympians embarking to Atlanta left a
country that had never fulfilled its Olympic potential and whose main
glory was winning eight medals in the Los Angeles Olympic Games in
1984, which had been boycotted by the Soviets and their allies at the
time. The same athletic team went back to a First World nation in
sports, now among the 25 best in the world, carrying 15 Olympic medals.
With this surprising success, Brazil now has a total of 54 Olympic
medals: 12 gold, 14 silver, and 27 bronze. World powers in past
Olympics, such as Belgium, Japan and Great Britain, couldn’t match
Brazil this time.

There were some disappointments, the most notorious of all, the Zagalo boys, who were so certain about their
gold that they seemed to have gone to the US just to pick it up. The soccer team had a disastrous opening loss to
Japan, however, and went back home skipping the fire truck parade and hiding their faces and bronze medals on their
return. The favored women’s volleyball team also took bronze and not the gold as expected. But theirs wasn’t a case
of arrogance and overconfidence, rather a sheer attack of nerves in facing Cuba during the semifinals.

The final loot: three gold, three silver, and nine bronze medals. In Moscow in 1980, Brazil won only three
medals; eight years later in Seoul this number doubled . Four years ago in Barcelona, however, the country had to be
content with a mere three medals, ending in 31st place in the final medal standings. Compare this to 16th place in Atlanta,
tying with Great Britain for number of medals. Brazil seems to have achieved maturity in a large spectrum of
sports’ modalities, from the popular games to the elite competitions.

In the end, the so-called rich sports brought home most of the prizes. It was a happy surprise to see the
equestrian team taking a bronze. In yachting alone, we got three medals: a gold for Robert Scheidt (Laser class); another gold
for Torben Grael, the Turbine, and Marcelo Ferreira, the Playboy (Star class); and, finally, a bronze for Lars Grael and
Kiko Pelicano (Tornado class). And then there was Henrique Guimarães and Aurélio Miguel, each winning a bronze in
judo; Gustavo Borges (silver in the 200-meter freestyle swimming and bronze in the 100-meter freestyle); and
Fernando Xuxa Scherer (bronze in 50-meter freestyle swimming). In track and field, Brazil has done better in previous
Olympics, but the bronze won in the 400-meter relay was celebrated as gold by the Brazilian team of André Domingos,
Arnaldo de Oliveira, Édson Luciano and Robson Caetano.

The Brazilian women, who had never won an Olympic medal before, became national heroes. The
women’s basketball team lost the gold to the United States, but they were still welcomed back home as golden girls.
Most Brazilians seemed more than happy with the silver, considering the US team an unbeatable bunch that should
be deemed hors concours in any world competition. The women’s beach volleyball teams seemed to be in
every newspaper and on every magazine cover in Brazil. Lively, pretty, the beach volleyball girls brought home the gold
and the silver, a feat no Brazilian male sport has matched in 100 years of Olympic competition. Jacqueline Silva and
Sandra Pires got the gold, their colleagues Mônica Rodrigues and Adriana Samuel were satisfied with the silver.

In essence, Brazil was able to amass so many medals because it won the competitions it’s always winning
around the world. Brazilian yachting, for example, which brought two golds and a bronze in Atlanta, has consistently
been among the world’s best for more than 40 years. In 26 years, yachting has brought home 10 (four gold, one silver,
and five bronze) of the 54 Brazilian Olympic medals. Judo, another sport in which Brazil excels, has contributed
another six medals (two gold, one silver, three bronze).

The Olympics had its bittersweet moments, and just plain bitter ones. The soccer girls, for example, who didn’t
get a medal, but went back showered with glory, don’t have jobs anymore. Oscar Schmidt, Brazil’s greatest
basketball player, is also unemployed. In his case, however, he decided to retire voluntarily at age 38 after a glorious career
that included five Olympic games and a record 1,096 points scored. Atlanta was his farewell to the basketball court.

It was a gratifying good-bye for Oscar, with his Number 14 jersey being inducted into the NBA’s Hall of Fame
in the United States¾the man who refused a 1984 invitation to play for the New Jersey Nets because he didn’t want
to leave Brazil. “My greatest merit,” he said in a press conference in Atlanta, “was to have played for the Brazilian
national team for the last 20 years. It didn’t matter that his team came in sixth place after losing to Greece. Now he has
already hinted that he wouldn’t mind becoming a coach. “I think I might help younger players,” he said with his
characteristic modesty.

Robert Scheidt, 23, the gold medalist in yachting, has a reputation of discipline, not drinking, and going to bed
and waking up early. But he couldn’t avoid all the celebrations prepared by relatives and friends in São Paulo, Rio,
and Ilhabela, the tourist island off the coast of São Paulo where he started sailing with father Fritz before he could
even talk. It was his father who was his only sponsor until 1990, when three companies started to pick up the tab
of approximately $30,000 a year. He refused an invitation from an American company to go train in the US.
“Monetarily, it wasn’t worthwhile,” he explained. Soon Robert should start preparations for a second gold in the Olympic
Games of Sydney, Australia, in the year 2000. He also intends to start a business in the area of sailing. His college degree
in business administration should help.

 

The medals are already changing the life of the winners. Jacqueline Silva, from the golden beach volley duo,
for example, has already announced the creation of a beach volley training center in Rio’s upper-class Barra da
Tijuca neighborhood. Mônica Rodrigues, who won the silver medal with Adriana Samuel, is planning to open a series
of beach volley schools on Rio’s beachfront. They would join the 10 centers that already exist, at full capacity now,
on Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Interest in the sensation sport is exploding all over the country.

Sponsors, even the shyest ones, are getting off the fence and joining the winners and the promising
athletes. Medalist swimmers Gustavo Borges and Fernando Scherer are studying proposals for endorsements from
various companies. Betting that swimming will pay handsomely and with an eye to a possible Olympic Games in Brazil in
2004, the CBDA (Confederação Brasileira de Desportos Aquáticos — Brazilian Confederation of Aquatic Sports)
is emulating Colorado Springs in the U.S. by building its own swimming complex, the Cidade da Natação
(Swimming City), in Campinas in the interior of São Paulo state.

Chocolate manufacturer Lacta has withdrawn its sponsorship from the Santo André club, the team with Janeth
and Leila, two of the silver-medaled women’s basketball team, but its place was immediately taken by Polti, an
appliance maker. And the best athletes in several sports are being eyed by foreign professionals from Europe and the
United States.

Tennis player Fernando Meligeni, 25, didn’t get a medal in Atlanta, but nobody could guess from his activities
these days. His surprising fourth place finish in the Olympics has made him a strong candidate to defend Brazil in the
next Davis cup and take the country back to first division in that competition. The road to the Davis started at the end
of August at the U.S. Open. During the Olympics, Meligeni had victories against Alberto Costa (15th in the
world rankings) and Mark Philippousis (36th). Now he is working feverishly to better his own ranking, currently
98th. Meligeni hates to be called Argentinean-naturalized Brazilian, even though he was born in Buenos Aires and
moved to Brazil when he was four.

For the women’s volleyball team, the defeat to Cuba was particularly painful. The Brazilian team had beaten
Cuba 3 to 0 in the preliminary phase of the Olympics. It was in the fifth set that Cuba clinched its tight 15 to 13 points’
victory. An exchange of insults among the two teams escalated into a real brawl when after the game Cuban Regla
Torres attacked Brazilian Ana Paula, the prettiest and apparently sweetest player of the Brazilian team. The police were
called in and the next day the Brazilian Olympic Committee filed a formal protest with the International Olympic
Committee (IOC).

The soccer flop

The millionaire soccer team’s (they had spent $5 million preparing themselves) 5 to 0 final game against
Portugal guaranteed a bronze for Brazil. However, nobody in Brazil, including the players, were willing to accept anything
but gold. The players had been promised $45,000 for winning the gold, the only prize that continues to elude the
national soccer team. The bronze medal turned out to be more a curse than an embarrassment, and it helped show how
little Olympic spirit the Zagalo’s golden-turned-bronze boys really had. They refused to accept their award with the
other medalists, taking it right after the game and breaking a centenary protocol. And then they hid their medals in
their baggage when disembarking in Brazil instead of showing them off on their chests as all the other athletes did.

As reported by sassy weekly newsmagazine Isto
É
,
the well-fed, well-lodged (at Athens’ private and exclusive golf club
Reynold Plantation) Brazilian players, who were on a shopping spree
while other teams were practicing and preparing themselves for the
games, lost to a famished and disgruntled Nigerian team. The day before
their game against Brazil, they had traveled for 12 hours by bus from
Birmingham, Alabama, to Athens, Georgia. Arriving at the modest
roadside Econo Lodge motel, Dutch coach Johannes Bonfrere had to use
his own credit card to pay the hotel bill, which should have been paid
by the Nigerian government. Without money to have a decent meal, they
all went to a Burger King across the street and feasted on hamburgers
for lunch. That night, they were able to eat a little better: pizza.

Ricardo Teixeira, the president of Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (CBF), announced a purge right after
the Brazilian fiasco. “We have to do the same thing we did after the World Cup in Italy, in 1990. We need to
reorganize everything.” Right after the game, physical trainer Luiz Carlos Prima seemed resigned to imminent
unemployment. Supervisor Américo Faria could at least cheer about his next job: manager for United States’ Major League
Soccer, the main group of professional U.S. soccer teams. Right after the Nigerians made their third goal, tying the game,
Faria, noticing the panic among the Brazilian team, screamed to the coach, “Zagalo, estamos fodidos” (“Zagalo, we
are fucked”).

Coach Zagalo continues to be employed. In his column for
Jornal do Brasil on August 11, he wrote: “In the latest nights,
before sleeping, I couldn’t stop thinking about that game against
Nigeria. I cannot understand why we could lose the advantage at 3 to 1.
With a national team as good as ours, all we had to do was to
administer the game. To keep the ball, pass the ball, that was all.
When we were there, nothing worked. Now, all we are interested in is
the ’98 World Cup… The team foundation should be the players who are
in Europe and Japan.”

Commenting on the soccer team, Minister of Sports and soccer player extraordinary Édson Arantes do
Nascimento, better known as Pelé, said the Brazilian players were hindered by their overconfidence (“That’s young folk’s
stuff”) and immediately saw a silver lining: “I’ll bet the lesson is going to help in the 1998 World Cup.”

 

Argentina didn’t play against Brazil in the final, as anticipated by many, and also ended up losing to Nigeria.
But not before getting the gold medal for arrogance and presumption. Celebrating Argentina’s victory against Portugal
and the near certainty its national team would play against Brazil, the Buenos Aires newspaper
Olé — from the biggest Argentinean media conglomerate, which also publishes the daily newspaper
Clarín — ran a headline in two lines
taking the whole extension of the paper: “Que vengan los macacos” (“Let the monkeys come”). The Brazilian embassy
in Buenos Aires filed a formal protest. It was useless. Brazil’s best response to the Argentineans’ inferiority complex
was its 15 Olympic medals. Ironically, during the final against Nigeria, Brazilians in the stadium were heard screaming
to the Nigerians, “Sai daí macaco” (“Get off there, you monkey”). As if the Brazilian team had only blue-eyed Saxons.


See you in Rio in 2004
The 15 medals Brazil captured in the Atlanta Olympics have given a fresh impetus for Rio’s candidacy to host
the 2004 Olympics. Brazil officially entered the fray last August 15 when Ronaldo César Coelho, Rio’s former
mayoral candidate and president of the Rio 2004 Committee, presented the Brazilian candidacy. Brazil’s proposal
was presented in a 580-page portfolio prepared by the same team from Spain that made the Barcelona candidacy a
success story. As for security, American and Israeli experts were consulted and would most likely be used in the event
the Brazilian bid is victorious.

Rio is one of the favorites among the 11 candidate cities (Lille, Rome, Athens, Buenos Aires, San Juan de
Puerto Rico, St. Petersburg, Cape Verde, Seville, Istanbul, and Stockholm), and it seems to have the inside track due to
the fact that South America has never hosted the Olympic Games and the Olympic organizers see this as good chance
to undo this secular slight. Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, will also be competing. Again, Rio, despite all the
recent bad press about its uncontrolled violence, holds the upperhand as a more beautiful city which, without any breach
of security or an Atlanta-type bomb scare, successfully hosted Eco-94, the ecological world summit. Organizers are
also touting the fact that all games would be played within a radius of 22 miles. At the latest Olympics, for example,
some soccer games were played in Miami, and yachting was held 300 miles from Atlanta.

Members of the International Olympic Committee will be visiting Brazil in November for an
in-locu inspection
that will help them compile a trimmed-down list of six finalist cities,
to be divulged in March 1997. The committee will arrive in a Rio
already caught in the Olympic fever. The airboats that cross Baía da
Guanabara are already sporting the logo with a stylized outline of the
Sugar Loaf and Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. Botafogo, one of Rio’s main
soccer teams, has already announced that it will also use the logo on
all of its players’ T-shirts. Until November, trains, the subway,
taxis, buses, and privates should also be displaying the logo.

Lists recruiting volunteers for the games are filling up fast. The organizer’s intention is to get 2 million
signatures to be presented to the IOC members during their November visit. “We are going to show that we are mobilized,
and we dare other candidate cities to show a response as fast as ours,” challenges Coelho. To show Brasília’s
commitment to the idea and to guarantee federal government backing of the Games, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso will
go to Rio to meet the IOC members at Palácio Laranjeiras. Bringing the Olympics to Brazil would mean an
investment of $4 billion, something unthinkable without federal help.

The Rio 2004 Project is already on-line, including a
form for those willing to volunteer to the effort. The requirements to volunteer are to be Brazilian, at least eight years
old, and willing to work in Rio during the Olympics. By August 21, more than 16,000 had already accessed the
address (http://athos.labma.ufrj.br/rio2004.html) and 44 WEB sites in Brazil had already joined the movement, placing a
Rio 2004 logo on their pages together with a link to the Rio 2004 home page.

 


 

The medals

 

Gold
Women’s beach volleyball
Jacqueline Silva and Sandra Pires

Yachting Laser class
Robert Scheidt

Yachting Star class
Torben Grael and Marcelo Ferreira

 

Silver
Women’s beach volleyball
Mônica Rodrigues and Adriana Samuel

100-meter free-style swimming
Gustavo Borges

Women’s basketball

8 – Maria Paula Silva
9 – Janeth Arcain
12 – Sílvia Luz
13 – Alessandra Oliveira
5 – Maria Angélica
14 – Cíntia Santos
15 – Cláudia Maria Pastor
6 – Adriana Santos

10 – Roseli Gustavo
7 – Leila Sobral
11 – Marta De Souza Sobral
4 – Hortęncia Marcari Oliva

 

Bronze

 

Equestrian team jumping

Rodrigo Pessoa, André Johannpeter, Luiz Felipe Azevedo and Álvaro Miranda Neto

Yachting Tornado class
Lars Grael and Kiko Pelicano

Men’s Judo Half Heavyweight
Henrique Guimarăes

Men’s Judo Half Lightweight
Miguel Fernandes

100-meter free-style swimming

Gustavo Borges

50-meter free-style swimming
Fernando Xuxa Scherer

400-meter relay
André Domingos, Arnaldo de Oliveira, Édson Luciano and Robson Caetano

Women’s volleyball
11 – Márcia Fu Cunha
10 – Virna Dias
13 – Ana Flávia Sanglard

5 – Ana Paula Connelly
14 – Fernanda Venturini
9 – Hilma Caldeira
15 – Heila Fofăo Souza
17 – Sandra Suruagy
2 – Ana Moser
8 – Leila Barros
12 – Ericléia Filo Bodziak
4 – Ana Ida Álvares

Men’s soccer
6 – Roberto Carlos
14 – André Luiz
8 – Amaral
4 – Ronaldo
10 – Rivaldo
1 – Dida
5 – Flávio Conceiçăo
17 – Luizăo

11 – Sávio
15 – Zé Elias
3 – Aldair
2 – Zé Maria
13 – Narciso
16 – Marcelinho Paulista
9 – Juninho
18 – Ronaldinho
7 – Bebeto

12 – Danrlei

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