Note from BW of Brazil: Well needless to say, this post has been a long-time coming and long overdue! I had originally prepared this post back in September of 2012 but for some reason it always got postponed. Going through a long list of important Afro-Brazilian women that are featured here on the blog, the desire to add the focus of today’s post to the blog was also sparked in that same year by the African-American gymnast Gabby Douglas who captured the world’s attention with her performance in the 2012 London Summer Olympics. I remember seeing so many black-oriented blogs and sites featuring the many accomplishments of the diminutive Douglas which included becoming “the first African American woman in Olympic history to become the individual all-around championand the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics as well as being the only American all-around champion to win multiple gold medals.” (1)
But at that moment, I wondered if any African-Americans (or Americans in general), knew of the accomplishments of another diminutive black girl, Daiane dos Santos, whose career peak was about a decade before that of Douglas. As it is the Olympic Games that the average viewer will most likely remember a gymnast’s performance, it was Gabby’s moment on the world stage and she triumphed. In 2004, I remember watching Daiane’s performance in the 2004 Olympics in full anticipation that she would take the gold. But it seemed that Daiane’s nerves got the best of her as she made some unfortunate errors and ended up coming in fifth. I vividly remember the camera zooming in on her face after an error in which she uttered, “puta que pariu” (you Brazilians know what that means). But even though Daiane came up short in her Olympics performances, her list of gold, silver, bronze medals and world rankings speak for themselves (see here).
Daiane dos Santos: Brazil’s Number One Gymnast
Courtesy of Primeiros Negros
The gaúcha (native of Rio Grande do Sul state) Daiane Garcia dos Santos is the principal name in the country in artistic gymnastics and she made history with her victory and winning of the first Brazilian gold medal in the world championships. At age 20, she won first place in the solo floor exercises, in the World Gymnastics Championships of 2003 in Anaheim, California, the most important competition of the sport, beating gymnasts Catalina Ponor (Romania) and Elena Gómez (Spain).
The Double Twist Carpado, a variation of the twist jump (popularly known as turning a pirouette around one’s self) followed by a deadly double, was executed to perfection for the first time by the Brazilian gymnast, to the song “Brasileirinho” by Waldir Azevedo, and, as a result, it took the name “Dos Santos” and won her her first Olympic gold. This, however, is not the only movement which takes her name. The “Dos Santos II” is another floor move in which the gymnast did a Extended Double Twist, which has an even greater degree of difficulty, and also was first presented to the world by the Brazilian gymnast at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
Daiane competed in her first world championship in 1999 and, until then, had obtained as her best mark fifth position in the world games of 2001. Daiane is an athlete out of the ordinary at the gym because she only started in the sport after 11 years of age, discovered by Professor Paula Cleusa, when the average age is six years. Her most famous music presentation, “Brasileirinho”, was used in her greatest achievements in the seasons of 2004/2005. In 2006, to the tune of “Isto Aqui O Que É?” by Ari Barroso, she won his first gold medal under the new scoring system of Artistic Gymnastics in Moscow.
Daiane dos Santos, always in the floor exercise, was world champion in 2003, won five stages of the World Cup Artistic Gymnastics, the most important, and finished fifth at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and sixth in Beijing in 2008.
Daiane started late in the sport. Our gymnast was born on February 10, 1983 and in the Olympics in London 2012, July 29, after being eliminated while still in the qualifying stage, at age 29, she announced her retirement.
Daiane dos Santos performs to the sound of “Brasileirinho”
Note from BW of Brazil: In 2007, Daiane participated in a DNA study of famous Afro-Brazilians and her results were perhaps more surprising than anyone with the exception of singer Neguinho da Beija Flor. These tests have become pretty popular over the past decade but I will admit that I view such things with a grain of skepticism and even wonder if there isn’t such sort of agenda at play. Oh well, that’s just me. Below is a report on Daiane’s DNA profile from 2007.
Daiane dos Santos is the ‘prototype of the Brazilian’
By Carolina Glycerio
From the genetic view, gymnast Daiane dos Santos is the prototype of the Brazilian, as indicated by her DNA test done by scientist Sérgio Danilo Pena at the request of BBC Brasil as part of the project Raízes Afro-brasileiras (Afro-Brazilian Roots).
According to the study from the Gene Laboratory, of Pena, the gaúcha athlete has 39.7% of African ancestry, 40.8% European and 19.6% American Indian. Of the nine subjects analyzed, it was Daiane who presented the most balanced proportions between the three main groups that gave origin to the Brazilian population.
Despite the surprise, the gymnast said the result explains the diversity in her family and is proud of having “a little of each.”
“My mother’s part of the family is very strange,” she said in an interview at the sports center of the Confederação Brasileira de Ginástica (Brazilian Gymnastics Confederation) in Curitiba, where she trains every day.
“There a blond cousin, Indian red, black. All mixed. It’s equal to Brazil, no one is pure anywhere, it’s a mixture of races.”
Daiane only didn’t expect the European composition. “This European part was the biggest surprise for me,” she said, laughing.
Despite European genes, Daiane still sees herself as afro-descendente (of African descent). “I think by the skin color. The important thing is that we are all Brazilians,” she added.
Sister Cindy didn’t hide a certain mistrust with the result: “European?,” she asked, looking at Daiane. Of the indigenous origins, the athlete only knew that her maternal grandmother was Indian and had left “Uruguay or Paraguay.”
“My great-grandmother was a tribe and went to (the state of) Rio Grande do Sul. My mother says that she really lived in an oca (tipi),” she said.
The BBC Brasil project analyzed DNA from eight other Afro-Brazilians: musicians Milton Nascimento, Djavan, Neguinho da Beija-Flor, Sandra de Sá and Seu Jorge along with activist Frei David Santos, actress Ildi Silva and futebol player Obina.
Genomic ancestry breakdown of Daiane dos Santos
To come to Daiane’s Amerindian, African and European proportions, Pena’s team analyzed 40 regions of her genome to estimate an average genetic composition.
More distant ancestors
Pena’s team also tracked the most distant ancestors of the gymnast on her father’s and mother’s part, by examining the mitochondrial DNA (DNA blocks only pass from mother to sons and daughters) and the Y chromosome (transmitted only from father to sons).
In the analysis of maternal lineage, the geneticist concludes that the haplogroup (set of genetic sequences) of Daiane is old, having originated around 20,000 years ago.
Of the more than 20 ethnic groups that Pena claims to have identified haplotypes (genetic sequences) identical to those of Daiane dos Santos, the only one that recognizes Daiane are the Yoruba – a famous group in Brazil for predominating in (northeastern state) Bahia.
The list includes lesser-known names like Bakaka, Fula, Futa-Fula, Mansonca, Pepel, Chuabo, Serer and Wolof, among others. Because the Y chromosome is only passed between men, to analyze the paternal ancestry of Daiane, Pena’s team had to examine DNA from the father of the gymnast, Moacir dos Santos.
In an indication that Daiane’s father’s lineage is more common in Brazil than her mother, the haplogroup (haplotype group) of Santos was seen in 47% of blacks who participated in a recent study that Pena held in São Paulo.
“This haplogroup (E3a) is the most common in sub-Saharan Africa, with a wide geographical distribution, which includes the three regions where they slaves sent to Brazil came from: West Africa, West Central and Southeast Africa,” says the geneticist in his report.
Pena explains, however, that the maternal and paternal ancestry tests reveal only the oldest ancestor of each side. Hence the importance of making the genetic ancestry test that takes an “average” of DNA and estimates the percentage of African, European and Amerindian ancestry.
Sergio Pena estimated a 2.5% margin of error of genetic ancestry tests.
1. From Wikipedia’s Gabby Douglas page.