Adhemar da Silva on his way to Olympic triple jump gold in 1952 (© Getty Images)
Adhemar Ferreira da Silva, the only Brazilian to win two Olympic titles in athletics, charmed the world in the 1950s when he invented a new style for the triple jump with the help of legendary coach of German origins Dietrich Gerner.
He had an elegant style and his main strength was his balance. He made his debut in athletics during the 1940s almost by accident. He thought that practising track and field would help him keep his elegant physique. He never tried to conceal this fact. And right up to his very last days he managed to maintain his good shape.
Da Silva died on 12 January 2001, not long after another legend of athletics, Emil Zatopek, with whom he was good friends for almost 50 years. He used to recall how he met Zatopek in Helsinki during the Olympic Games in 1952 when he won his first Olympic gold and Zatopek became the Olympic champion in the 5000m, 10,000m and marathon.
Another fact that he liked to remember was when, back in 1987, together with other stars of the world of athletics, he was honoured by the IAAF in Rome. The IAAF was celebrating its 75th anniversary and produced a video and a book (100 Golden Moments) featuring 100 performances of 100 athletes who had contributed to the history of the sport. And one of Da Silva’s jumps in Helsinki, his world and Olympic record of 16.22m, was one of the performances chosen for the book.
At the climax of his career, Da Silva faced the representatives of the Soviet school of triple jump whose star was Leonid Tcherbakov, the Olympic silver medallist in Helsinki. The two athletes met again 45 years later in Manaus where Da Silva had been invited for a ceremony of the CBAt and Tcherbakov was technical advisor at the High Level Training Centre (CETAN) of the Olympic city of Manaus.
Da Silva liked to underline how athletics had introduced him to celebrity. "It was thanks to this sport that I had so many opportunities," he said.
After he stopped competing in 1960, he promoted many projects related to athletics. Until 2000, he accepted, convinced by the President of CBAt Roberto Gesto de Melo, to support the Coca-Cola project, which in partnership with the Government of the Amazons, would be the official sponsor of CETAN and the Olympic City of Manaus.
He couldn’t go to Manaus on 8 January where he was to be elected in the CBAt Athletes' Commission together with Joaquim Cruz, Nelson Prudencio and Robson Caetano da Silva. He had been hospitalised in Sao Paulo.
"Adhemar told us through his cellular phone, that he couldn’t attend the meeting in Manaus," said Gesta de Melo during the General Assembly.
"Athletics and the sport in Brazil lost its best athlete," said Gesta de Melo after learning of Da Silva’s death. "It is more than a big loss. Adhemar was still to achieve great things for Brazil through his knowledge, his experience and his will to help which never abandoned him."
In addition to being an athlete and promoter of great projects linked to the sport, Da Silva was also a journalist, a lawyer and worked in public relations. Also an artist, Da Silva was cultural advisor at the embassy of Brazil in Nigeria, the African country where his family originated. He was a columnist in the newspaper "Ultima Hora" which in the 1950s and 1960s was an example of Brazilian development.
In the 1950s he acted in the famous movie "Orfeu Negro" (The Black Orpheus) which won the Palme d’Or in the International Festival of Cannes and an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
At the end of 2000, the Ministry of Sports and Tourism chose him as a member of the National Athletes Commission together with other great names of national sports.
As a sportsman, Da Silva played in the Sao Paulo Football club and the Vasco de Gama Club. He represented Brazil at the Olympic Games in London 1948, in Helsinki 1952, in Melbourne 1956 and Rome 1960. He won gold in Helsinki and Melbourne.
Da Silva also won the Pan American Games three times in Buenos Aires 1951, in Mexico City 1955 and in Chicago 1959.
Born on 29 September 1927 in Sao Paulo, Da Silva reached 15.00m in 1948. In 1949 he twice jumped 15.51m and on 3 December 1950, on the track of the Tiete Club in Sao Paulo, he leapt 16.00m, equalling the world record which had stood since 1936 to Japan’s Naoto Tajima. On 30 September 1951 in Rio de Janeiro he bettered the world record to 16.01m.
On 23 July 1952 during the final of the Olympic Games in Helsinki he improved his own world record twice: he first landed at 16.12m and then 16.22m. Finally, on 16 March 1955 during the Pan American Games of Mexico City, he jumped 16.56m.
Benedito Turco for the IAAF