Alison dos Santos wins the bronze medal in the 400m hurdles for Brazil; with a time of 46.72 he has the third best mark in the history of the Olympics
The Brazilian athlete recorded the third best mark in the history of the Olympics
By Marques Travae with information from Gaúcha ZH, Rádio Jornal, Veja and UOL
There are numerous reasons for why Brazil isn’t the powerhouse in Olympic games in the same manner as countries such as the United States and China, which is why it’s always big news when a Brazilian manages to earn a medal, specifically in individual sports. Similar to the country’s economic performance, Brazilians often do very well in athletic games restricted to only the Latin American region, but when its representatives compete with the rest of the world, it usually only attains ten to twenty five percent of the medals that the superpowers of the world earn.
This year is no different. Brazil has the top economy in Latin America, but currently has the 12th largest economy in the world with the United States GDP being 15 times larger. In total Olympic medals at Tokyo 2020, the US has 5.6 times more total medals than Brazil, while China has 8.5 times more gold medals. As such, it’s understandable how athletes that win individual medals are seen as national heroes in the country.
Brazilians celebrated, smiled and cried when gymnast Rebeca Andrade won first a silver medal and then, a few days later, won a gold medal in women’s gymnastics. The country is guaranteed at least a silver and possibly a gold when boxer Hebert Conceição enters the ring the next time, having already reached the final. Adding to medal totals a few days ago, after a frustrating day at the Tokyo Olympics for Brazilian track and field athletes, Alison Santos, 21, won a bronze medal in the final of the 400m dash. He stepped onto the podium after finishing the course in 46sec72, setting a new South American record. He broke the South American record for the fifth time this year. It was the 11th medal for Brazil.
The race was marked by overcoming: first, Karsten Warholm, broke his own world record when he finished in 45sec94, breaking the previous mark which was 46sec70. Coming in second, the American Rai Benjamin, took the silver medal, breaking the regional record with a time of 46sec17.
In fourth place, Kyron McMaster beat the national record (47sec08); Cuban-born Yasmani Copello that represented Turkey equaled the national record (47sec81) and Estonia’s Rasmos Magi also broke his country’s record coming in at 48sec11.
Alison was already the South American record holder and champion of the 2019 Lima Pan American games. In addition, he put Brazil back in a final of the 400m hurdles, 21 years after the presence of Eronildes de Araújo, who finished in seventh place in Sydney-2000, and was the first athlete from the country to finish the race under 48 seconds.
Every medal won by Brazil in the Tokyo Olympics has its story, but the one won by dos Santos a few days, is the longest of them. It was in the 400m hurdles that, on that same day, August 3rd, Brazil qualified for the first time in an Olympic final, in Berlin, 85 years ago, with Sylvio de Magalhães Padilha. It had been eight and a half decades waiting to reach the podium, which finally came, with a time 2 hundredths off the world record, which was only worth bronze.
The reason that this is impressive is that Brazil doesn’t even have a successful tradition in individual track and field events, even though it produced one of the greatest runners in history, Joaquim Cruz, who won a gold medal in Los Angeles and a silver medal in Seoul in the 800m.
In his third-place finish, dos Santos ran one of the biggest races of his life. In the semifinals, he ran the race in 47s31 which broke the South American record. Alison is one of the most humorous athletes of Tokyo 2020. He jokes with reporters and dances to the sound of the funk song “Malvadão”. What few people know is that the smiling athlete also had to overcome a number of other challenges in his life just to get here.
He was born in São Joaquim da Barra, in the interior of São Paulo state. When he was 10 months old, a pan of hot oil spilled on him. With third-degree burns, Alison was hospitalized for months at the Barreto Cancer Hospital, and to this day he carries the after-effects of that sad day. His head was left with scars that prevent the growth of hair in all extension of the scalp. Part of his forehead and the right side of his face also still bear the marks of the accident.
For many years Alison wore a cap to try to cover up the marks. He was very ashamed of his scars and grew up a shy boy, very different from the lively athlete who celebrates his victories by dancing in front of the cameras today. “He was very shy, he was ashamed to go out alone,” recalls Ana Fidélis.
The beginning of his career
Alison was discovered when teachers from a social project visited schools in the city. Soon, the boy drew attention. At 14, he was already a little over 6’0’’ tall. Now, at 21, he is 6’6’’. “The day they went to his school and saw Alison, skinny, sitting down, black, wearing a cap, they said: get into athletics, you look like someone who likes sports”, remembers Ana. Shy, the boy didn’t respond to the invitation.
Months later, the invitation was made again, and this time he accepted. “But he was so shy because of the burn that he only went wearing a cap. He was embarrassed to death,” said Ana. In the first competition, at the Olympic Center in São Paulo, Alison ran with a yellow cap borrowed from a teammate.
Facts about Alison
- Pan-American champion in Lima-2019
- 7th place in the 2019 Doha World Championships
- Height: 6’6’’
Now, Alison has changed quite a bit. Good humored, he loves to sing and dance the funk “Chamo teu vulgo Malvadão”, a hit among TikTok users. “I want to make history, just like other athletes are already doing,’’ he would say. “I was the first Brazilian to run the race under 48 seconds and I want to keep breaking records. I am very happy to be in this environment. Being among the three best athletes (in the 2021 world ranking) and having the technical level to run along with them,” he said in a press conference in Tokyo.
“The first thing that went through my mind when I crossed the line is that now I am an Olympic medalist. I don’t just run for myself, I run for my coach, for my family. I talked to my parents before the race and told them that I am running for them. I can’t wait to come home. For my mother, my sisters, for São Joaquim da Barra. I carry their love with me, this enchants me and makes me go further,” said the athlete to Rede Globo after the victory.
“My coach and I talked and he said he would give me the power to decide during the race, if I would run the whole race strong or if I would choose the moment to advance. I thought I wasn’t doing so well until the eighth hurdle, so I decided not to turn very strong, but when I passed it, I regretted it a little because I could have run this point strong with a better result. But I’m very happy for qualifying for the final. We were planning this, dreaming about this and today it’s come true,” said Alison, in a statement to the press office of the Brazilian Athletics Confederation (CBA).
To reach the podium, Alison dos Santos overcame a series of adversities during the pandemic of the coronavirus. During the period when he couldn’t train at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, USA, he divided himself between São Joaquim da Barra, where he adapted his training in a street with little traffic, and in the São Paulo capital, where he started running in the Ibirapuera Park. To make matters worse, he suffered some injuries and contracted Covid-19 in January this year, which made him miss the Troféu Brasil. Everything is now behind him and “Piu”, as he is known, can now aim for an even better result in the Paris-2024 Games.