Adhemar da Silva on his way to Olympic triple jump gold in 1952 (© Getty Images)
Triple jumper Adhemar Da Silva has a good claim to being the greatest ever athlete produced by the South American continent thanks to his back-to-back Olympic Games gold medals in 1952 and 1956.
After finishing a modest eighth at the 1948 Olympics, in 1950 da Silva established himself as the top triple jumper in the world when he equalled Naoto Tajima's 14-year-old world record of 16.00m. The following year, he improved that mark to 16.01m.
Despite other opponents with good medal credentials, da Silva was in a class of his own in Helsinki, leaping 15.95m with his opening jump and then breaking his own world record with 16.12m in the second round.
Four rounds later, he improved further to 16.22m and he also had jumps over 16 metres in the fourth and sixth rounds.
The noted French athletics writer Alain Billouin described da Silva's Helsinki performance with these words: “Gracefully, he skimmed through each hop-step-and-jump, displaying the poise and finesse of a samba dancer.”
After losing his world record to the Soviet Union's Leonid Shcherbakov, who jumped 16.23m in 1953, da Silva regained it two years later with a mighty effort of 16.56m at the 1955 Pan-American Games in Mexico City.
At the 1956 Olympics, he won with an Olympic record of 16.35m and had three other jumps over 16 metres in Melbourne.
Three years later, Da Silva also got plaudits in another arena for his portrayal of Death in the award-winning 1959 Brazilian film Orfeu Negro.