‘’On the national team, they didn’t want to use the same bathroom as me’’: Gold medal winning gymnast Daiane dos Santos recalls incidents of racism as a black gymnast
By Marques Travae
By now, anyone who has paid any attention to the world of gymnastics is probably willing to concede to the idea of American gymnast Simone Biles being labeled the ‘’GOAT’’, or the ‘’Greatest of All-Time’’ in the sport. At this point, it may be difficult to even challenge the claim. But once upon a time in Brazil, many believed another diminutive black girl had the chance to stake a claim to this title at the time.
Daiane dos Santos can’t match Biles medal for medal, but her accomplishments are nothing to sneeze at. During her career, Daiane racked up 16 medals, 7 of which were gold. She also holds the distinction of being not only the first black gymnast to win an event at the World Championships but also the first Brazilian and South-American to win the competition.
The fact that dos Santos happens to be able to claim a feat of being ‘’the first black’’ anything speaks to how the issue of race plays out in an area such as gymnastics that for decades hasn’t been a sport associated with black athletes. And as it turns out, Daiane has had her shares of moments in which she got the idea that people believed she was ‘’out of place’’.
In a recent interview, Daiane spoke about her experiences with prejudice while she was a member of Brazil’s national team. In one example, she remembers that some people even refused to use the same bathroom as her. Speaking on the issue, the former athlete spoke to Maria Claire magazine’s Brazil edition.
“I don’t think there’s a black person who hasn’t suffered racism in their life. What happens is that many people don’t understand what they are going through, they don’t know how to diagnose it. In my case, it was always very subtle: a different look, a different treatment. A raising of the voice,” Daiane said in the article.
“With me, there were situations on the national team, in the clubs, of people who didn’t want to be close, who didn’t want to use the same bathroom! That kind of thing that makes you think: oops, we’re back to segregation. White people’s bathrooms and colored people’s bathrooms. There was a lot of this within the selection. And besides the race issue, there is the issue of coming from the south, of not being from the center of the country, of having humble origins. In other words: she is everything we didn’t want here,” she continued.
Dos Santos, who became the first Brazilian gymnast to win a gold medal in the world championships, believes that what she represented has an effect on the whole world.
“When we see a black person in a place, she represents all black people. It shows that it is a possible place. And even more in sports that are not the ones people are used to seeing dark skin. And the repercussion was worldwide, because I wasn’t the first black Brazilian, I was the first black gymnast in the world to win a gold medal,” she said.
In a previous interview from 2018, Daiane also spoke out against racist incidents, such as the one on the bathroom.
I know that Daiane dos Santos may not be a household name for those outside of Brazil, but she clearly had some memorable moments. one example that most Brazilians will always remember is her performance to Waldir Azevedo’s choro song known as “Brasileirinho”. To this distinctively Brazilian rhythm, the gymnast captivated the world and it was this routine that earned the country’s first gold medal at the 2003 World Championships.
In 2003, the “Brasileirinho” song and routine became Daiane’s claim to fame in the World Championships that were held Anaheim, California. Aside from the Brazilianness of the song itself, the gaúcha (native of the state of Rio Grande do Sul) floored audiences with a signature move: the Arabian double salto piked which would later become known as the “Dos Santos.”
Following her success at the World Championships, Daiane went on to win medals at various stages of the World Cup, amassing a total of eleven medals between 2003 and 2006. Under all the glaring lights of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, dos Santos, who had just recovered from a knee surgery, only managed to come in fifth place, but she left her mark on the event with another unique twist, which was dubbed the “Dos Santos II” or the Arabian double salto stretched.
Before retiring in 2012, Daiane went on to compete in two more Olympic Games: Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.