News17 Oct 2015

Brazil’s Olympic journey so far – 300 days to go


Joaquim Cruz wins the 1984 Olympic 800m title (© Getty Images)

In exactly 300 days from today (17), the athletics programme of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games will get underway and the eyes of the world will be on the Brazilian city.

It will be the first time that Brazil has staged a global track and field championship, so naturally the host nation will be keen to add to their tally of 14 athletics medals from previous editions of the Olympic Games.

Their first ever Olympic medal in athletics, and their first ever title, came in jumping events, setting the tone for what was to come.

Jose da Conceicao took bronze in the high jump at the 1952 Games in Helsinki, giving Brazil its first Olympic athletics medal. An incredible all-round talent, Da Conceicao also contested the triple jump in 1952 and went on to finish sixth in the 200m final at the 1956 Games – better than his performance in the high jump at that Olympics.

Just three days after Da Conceicao’s bronze medal in the Finnish capital, Adhemar da Silva leapt to gold in the triple jump. Less than two years after becoming Brazil’s first world record-holder, Da Silva became his country’s first Olympic champion in athletics, breaking his own world record twice in the process with jumps of 16.12m and 16.22m.

Da Silva successfully defended his title four years later in Melbourne. Having increased his world record to 16.56m one year prior, Da Silva sailed out to an Olympic record of 16.35m to take his second gold.

It was to be another 12 years before Brazil added to its Olympic medal tally in athletics. But, no doubt inspired by Da Silva, the next four medals banked by Brazil all came in the triple jump.

Nelson Prudencio took silver in 1968 – having set a world record in the final, only to see it broken by Viktor Saneyev – and bronze in 1972, followed by successive bronze medals from Joao Carlos de Oliveira in 1976 and 1980.

Like fellow Olympic medallists Da Silva and Prudencio, De Oliveira also became a world record-holder. Aided by the altitude of Mexico City in 1975, De Oliveira added a staggering 45 centimetres to the world record with his leap of 17.89m, a mark that stood for nearly 10 years.

It wasn’t until 1984 that Brazil won its first Olympic medal in a track event.

Just 21 years old, Joaquim Cruz sprinted away from the field in the home straight to win the 800m title in Los Angeles in an Olympic record of 1:43.00.

Cruz took silver four years later in Seoul, while sprinter Robson da Silva grabbed bronze in the 200m at those Games.

In 1996, 12 years after making his Olympic debut, Da Silva was part of the bronze-medal-winning 4x100m team in Atlanta. In 2000, with a slightly different team, they went one better and took silver in Sydney.

Brazil’s sole medal of the 2004 Games came at the other end of the distance spectrum, but marathon runner Vanderlei de Lima inadvertently became one of the biggest talking points of the Athens Olympics.

In the closing stages, De Lima had a surprising lead of about 30 seconds and looked to be on course for gold. But soon after the 35km mark, a protestor ran on to the course and dragged De Lima into the crowds. De Lima got back into the race but had lost crucial time and rhythm, eventually being passed by Stefano Baldini and Meb Keflezighi.

De Lima held on to take bronze and was later awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal, a special decoration awarded by the International Olympic Committee to athletes who exemplify the spirit of sportsmanship in Olympic events.

Brazil’s latest Olympic medal came in 2008 when Maurren Higa Maggi won gold in the long jump, becoming the first Brazilian woman to win an Olympic medal.

It brought the country’s tally to 14 Olympic medals, four of which are gold. Of those 14 medals, eight have been won in the jumps with the triple jump being responsible for six of them.

Looking ahead to 300 days’ time in Rio, the host nation’s success in the jumps looks set to continue with pole vaulters Fabiana Murer, Thiago Braz and Augusto Dutra among their best hopes of a medal.

And although there is less than a year to go, there is still time for new faces to emerge and challenge for a place on the podium.

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF