Rio 2016 (2): how did Brazil fare in the sports arena?

Présentation du logo des JO de Rio en 2012. Phil Guest / Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
Présentation du logo des JO de Rio en 2012. Phil Guest / Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
Now that the Rio Olympics have finished and the Paralympics are due to start on 7 September, let’s have a look back at this landmark event for Brazil from three angles.
Being chosen as the organiser of the Games brings with it pressure for results. In response, resources need to be found (financial, material and human) and ambitious yet realistic goals need to be set. If we look at the last Olympic Games, we can see a linear upward trend in the number of medals won by the host country.

Medals won at the Summer Olympics by the host country at Y0, Y-4 and Y-8. Michel Raspaud, Author provided

As we can see, four years before the Olympics are held, the host country has progressed statistically compared with the previous Olympics. This means that selection as host country of the Olympics, seven years before they take place, not only sparks additional motivation but also leads to a policy geared towards the elite being set up, such that the country performs better by the next Olympics already. By the time the hosted Olympics come round, the overall results are better still. It can therefore be supposed that the same applied for Brazil.

Brazil in the Summer Olympics up to 2012

Brazil competed at the modern Olympics for the first time back in 1920 (Antwerp), two years prior to its Independence celebrations, during which the “Centenary Games” were organised (amongst other events). Recognised by the IOC, which dispatched a delegate to report on the event, they were commonly referred to as the "Latin-American Games of Rio de Janeiro”.
Between Antwerp and London 2012, Brazil scooped 108 medals in all – a fairly low tally if compared with the great Olympic nations – both "historical" (Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand for example) and more “recent”, such as China, alike. The latter won more medals at the Beijing Olympics alone than Brazil had during all of its appearances up to and including 2008…
It is clear that Brazil, despite being a demographic superpower (with over 200 million inhabitants), has a long way to go before it catches up with these great sporting powers – football hogs the media limelight and drains all-important sponsorship and merchandising funds.
But for all that, in recent decades Brazil has chalked up ever greater scorecards during the Olympics, with the Brazilians winning at least ten medals at each event since Atlanta (1996). The record until then had been 8 in Los Angeles 1984).

Medals won by Brazil at the last five Olympics leading up to Rio 2016. Michel Raspaud, Author provided

Brazil’s showing at Beijing and London even placed it in the same league as the nations listed in Table 1. We could therefore expect an even better performance at Rio 2016. But, before analysing these results, what were Brazil’s stated ambitions?

The ambitions in the run-up to Rio: in the World Top Ten

In its special edition Olimpíada 2016 dated 24 July, the daily newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo interviewed Marcus Vinícius Freire, Sports Director of the Brazilian Olympic Committee. He explained that, at Beijing and London, the World Top Ten stood at around 27-28 medals, and that with 24-25 medals, it was possible to break into this elite.
The newspaper was more optimistic, confidently announcing an impressive lineup of a 465-strong delegation of athletes capable of winning 27 medals (8 gold, 8 silver and 11 bronze), thereby sailing into the World Top Ten. But by its 3 August edition, the Paulist weekly paper Veja had toned down these predictions, estimating just 21 medals (8 gold, 10 silver and 3 bronze). Did these predictions come to pass?

Rio: a disappointment for Brazil?

Based on the results actually achieved (19 medals, including 7 gold, 6 silver and 6 bronze), we can make two observations:
• The first, positive, one is in line with our predictions in light of Table 1: like all host countries, Brazil did better than at the last two Olympics, even if the scale of its progress puts it more on a par with Greece than the other nations, given the small number of additional medals won (just +2). Brazil did beat its gold medal record though (5 at Athens 2004).
• The second is less encouraging: Brazil did not make it into the World Top Ten either in terms of total number of medals won (joint 12th with the Netherlands, three away from Canada: 22), or in terms of gold medals won (joint 13th with Spain, one away from the countries in joint 9th: Italy, Australia, Netherlands and Hungary: 8).
And, among the countries ahead of it, no matter which medal table we look at, save for China and the US, Brazil is the most populated.

Were the gold medals a surprise?

Of the seven gold medals won, O Estado de S. Paulo, Veja and A Tribuna (daily newspaper of Vitoria, in the State of Espírito Santo) had all predicted the men’s beach-volley duo Alison Cerruti/Bruno Oscar Schmidt as well as the women’s sailing duo Kahena Kunze/Martine Grael, the men’s football and the men’s volleyball, which also won back the World Number One spot.
Robson Conceição (men’s boxing, lightweight category) had been touted for the silver medal.
O Estado de S. Paulo had named Thiago Braz da Silva, the pole vaulter who beat the favourite Renaud Lavillenie, as "one to watch" (he had incidentally already beaten the Frenchman during the tournament in Berlin last February!).
In the end, only the women’s Judo champion Rafaela Silva (57kg) was missing from the predicted medal count given by the press that we were able to consult during our Brazilian trip at the end of July/beginning of August – even though the 24-year-old had reaped a total of 13 medals over the 2011-2016 period at international competitions, including four individual gold medals! Was the cause her home town, the favela Cidade de Deus, made famous by Fernando Meirelles’ film (2002), or her confirmed homosexuality?

But the football gold was the icing on the cake

Brazil’s passion for football set the men’s Olympic tournament in a field of its own. The controversy over the captain Neymar and his tendency to party hard as well as the faltering start (two draws to begin) did not bode nearly as well as things actually ended up going (wins against Denmark, Columbia and Honduras without conceding a single goal and scoring 12).
But the final against Germany brought the humiliation of the 2014 Fifa World Cup sorely back to mind (which we try and put a light-hearted spin on): after 120 minutes and Germany hitting the woodwork three times, it was finally the goalkeeper Weverton (called in at the last minute to replace Prass who was injured) who made the decisive save during the penalty shootout and enabled Neymar to clinch the only title that had been missing from men’s football.
So the Games were a success after all!


The original version of this article was published in The Conversation on 1 September 2016

Publié le September 1, 2016
Mis à jour le February 14, 2017

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