Black, poor, female, HERO: Rafaela Silva wins Brazil’s first gold medal at home in the 2016 Olympic Games

Judo artist Rafaela Silva earns Brazil’s first gold medal in 2016 Olympic Games

Note from BW of Brazil: What can we say? Simply proud, proud, proud! By now, everyone who has been following the 2016 Olympics in Rio knows that Rafaela Silva clinched Brazil’s first gold medal of the Games with a stunning victory on Monday. There are so many reasons that this writer felt so much joy at seeing Rafaela stand on the victory podium and accept her gold medal. As the headline reads: she’s black, she’s a woman and she’s from the infamous Cidade de Deus favela, yes the same favela slum that gained international fame due to the run away success of the 2002 film of the same name. 

NP 2
Headlines in major newspapers: “Gold with the face of Brazil”, “Golden girl”, “Brazilian gold has DNA of City of God”

Nearly five years into the existence of this blog and we’ve consistently shown that Brazil simply doesn’t value black women. Black, female and favelada (slum inhabitant) are three categories that the nation has consistently ignored and pretended don’t exist for centuries. But Silva’s shining moment on the world stage, in her hometown, was a moment that the mainstream media simply couldn’t ignore! The face, skin color and hair texture that are rarely featured on all the magazine covers or in the popular novelas (soap operas) was plastered all over the front pages of major Brazilian newspapers today. Some of those very same newspapers in which Afro-Brazilians barely even make up 10% of the columnists

NP 1
“Woman. Black. Poor. Warrior: The face of Brazil”, “Fight like a girl”, “Gold that comes from City of God”

And we also stand with Rafaela as she rose from a frustrating loss in the 2012 London Games in which she was the victim of the hostile racism that Brazilians continue to want to believe doesn’t exist. After her loss due to an illegal hit four years ago, she was tormented in social media with all sorts of racist insults. The same sort of racist insults that numerous famous Afro-Brazilian women have been assaulted with over the past few years as numerous shameless Brazilians spew their racist sentiments behind the relative safety of social networks. 

Perhaps what most infuriates me about Brazil’s contradictory reaction to Rafa’s win is that even in victory, we know that there are still those out there who will insult her because, regardless of the fame, success, money and glory, people who look like Rafaela will always be under-appreciated by a nation that has an obsession with European features. But we’ll get into that further in tomorrow’s piece. For now, we celebrate the victory of Rafaela Silva. The woman who stood firm, held her head up, trained for four more years and earned the respect of her country that now, ironically, wants to share in the gold victory of one of its rejected citizens. 

Congratulations Rafaela!

It’s gold for Brazil! Rafaela Silva wins the judo final at the Olympics after racism in London


Courtesy of Cidade Verde and Zero Hora

She’s a Silva, is from the favela (slum), she’s one of the millions of Brazilians who had a poor childhood. The difference is that sport transformed Rafaela’s life, and about fifteen years after being placed by her father in a social project that taught judo to prevent organized crime from seducing her, the menina carioca (native girl from Rio) of 24 years is the newest Olympic champion of world sport.


“Remembering the suffering I went through in London, that they criticized me, that I was a disgrace to my family, and today I was able to represent all Brazilians with this medal here at home. The macaco (monkey) that had to be in the cage in London today is an Olympic champion at home and today I wasn’t an embarrassment to my family,” declared the champion remembering the racial slurs at the London Olympics. After winning the first gold for Brazil in 2016, Rafaela Silva couldn’t hold back her tears.

A moment of emotion after Rafaela Silva’s gold-medal winning victory

Rafaela Silva said she thought about quitting judo after the failure in the London 2012 Games, when she was disqualified for an illegal blow.

According to her, the support of the technical committee was essential for continuing in the sport. “Soon after my fight in London I was going to quit judo. I started doing work with my couching [trainer] psychologist. She helped me, didn’t let me abandon judo, my coach encouraged me,” she said acknowledging that her work with a coach helped her to think more positively and be more focused on her goals.

Rafaela climbs into the stands as she celebrates her gold-medal winning victory

“In the last two years my results were not good, I was kind of discredited. They said I was an unknown. I trained my best and the result came.” After losing to the Hungarian Hedvig Karakas, in London, Rafaela sought support from fans on the Internet. She found racial slurs. About the party in the Cidade de Deus, the carioca community where she grew up and where she began to practice the sport, Rafela said her victory can be a good influence. “It’s great for kids who watched. Being a world and Olympic champion, having started in judo as a joke, it’s inexplicable,” she said. “They have to believe that a dream can be realized.”

Gold over Sumiya Dorjsuren
Silva defeated Sumiya Dorjsuren to take Brazil’s first gold medal at Rio 2016

Born and raised in the notorious slum Cidade de Deus, Rafa took down five opponents and jumped into a contagious crowd on Monday, in the Arena Carioca 2 at the Parque Olímpico da Barra, to realize the biggest dream of any athlete on the planet, no matter where they came from. In the final of the light-weight (up to 57kg), the 1.69m (5’7”) athlete rose up and won by a wazari over Mongolian judo artist Sumiya Dorjsuren, leader in world rankings. It’s the first gold of Team Brazil at the Olympics in Rio, the second medal of the country after the silver won by Felipe Wu in the 10m air pistol event. Rafa’s accolade is the 20th of national judo at the Olympic Games, increasing the advantage in the martial art of Japanese origin in the dispute with sailing (17).

Rafa’s beginnings in Judo through a social project

“She defeated racism – Newspaper cover story: “Harassed after elimination four years ago in London, Rafaela Silva wins Brazil’s first gold in Rio”

Coming from a social project, Reação, idealized by Olympic and today global medalist Flávio Canto, Rafaela came from Cidade de Deus, in west zone Rio, to win in the sport.

“I think my life is judo. If not for judo I don’t know where I would be. Thank God I found the sport and I’m here,” she added. “I think that no one has trained more than me to be here.”

On Jornal Nacional, the judoka appreciated the importance of her first coach, Geraldo Bernardes, former coach of Brazil and idealizer of the project that introduced the young woman to sport:

“He represents everything. I’ve won competitions since childhood, but my family had no money to go abroad. The teacher picked up the card and bank rolled me.”

“I think that I only have to thank everyone who has given me strength. I trained enough to represent everyone in this gym. If I could be an example for community children, it’s what I have to go through for judo. I trained all I could in this cycle, came out training, crying, wanted the medal. I worked enough to win. For a child who grew up in a community that does not have much purpose in life, like me, I am the Cidade de Deus, and started doing judo for fun, I am now a world and Olympic champion,” vibrated Rafaela soon after leaving the mat.


Since she first entered the mat on Monday, Rafaela decided that she would go very far in the Olympics in Rio. Owner of a huge talent for judo, but no fan of exhaustive training, she was world champion in 2013, but spent three recent years with no great results and began to grind more in training.

It was all was saved for the competition at home. With plenty of force, blood in her eye and technique, she had the support of a crazed crowd that cheered incessantly, vibrating with no end, pressing the gringas (foreign girls). The most famous Silva of the moment defeated, by the morning, in sequence, the German Myriam Roper (first phase), the South Korean Jandi Kim (quarter finals) and Hungarian Hedvig Karakas. The place in the decision came with a thrilling victory in the golden score, the prolongation of judo, over the strong Romanian Corina Căprioriu, a silver medalist in London 2012 and vice World champion in 2015.

After the defeat in London 2012, the athlete suffered from the negative public reaction. When she reached the hotel after her elimination in the second round, hundreds of notifications on her social networks caught her attention. Rafaela opened her Twitter and revolted. Through the Internet, she had received all kinds of criticism and racist insults, and didn’t hold back. She countered the Internet, acknowledged that she erred and affirmed her capacity for the Rio Games.

“Go fuck yourself…filho da puta (son of a bitch)…I lost, but I’m human like everyone else. I made a mistake and I know I have the ability to reach and win a spot in 2016. Are you coming here? Oh, you don’t have the capacity to win a place and represent your country with a flag on your chest, asshole,” she wrote.

Judo - Women -57 kg Final - Gold Medal Contest

At the time, a representative of the Ministry of Sport in London went on to suggest that those responsible be prosecuted, but no action was taken. In 2016, Rafaela Silva faced her tormentor, Hedvig Karakas, in the second fight. The fight lasted a few seconds, with no chance for the Hungarian. After winning the judo final of up to 57 kilos and winning her first Olympic title, Rafaela Silva wept and vented.

Brazilian representative in the men’s lightweight (up to 73kg), the Paulista (São Paulo native) Alex Pombo was eliminated on Monday morning in his first fight, being knocked down in the final seconds by the  Chinese opponent Saiyinrigala.

Rafaela celebrates her victory

In the first two days of judo in 2016, Brazil had gone blank. The best result was fifth place finish of Érika Miranda (52kg). Olympic champion in London 2012, Sarah Menezes came in seventh place, the same position of the bronze at the last Olympics of Felipe Kitadai, in the 60kg class. Charles Chibana (66kg) was eliminated on the first fight. On Tuesday, starting at 10am (Brasília time), will be the welterweight dispute (63kg for women and 81kg for men). Mariana Silva, who is not favorite and will compete with an outside chance, and Victor Penalber, a bronze winner at the World games last year, are the Brazilians who seek medals.

Wazari and gold

Rafa entered the mat with a tight face and a huge concentration. As what always happens in fights involving two great judokas (judo artists), the competition for footing was tight in the first action. In order that the two experts didn’t come to blows, both were punished.

With just over three minutes to the end, Rafa got in a powerful leg blow and got a wazari. The judge asked for help from the replay of the table referees and could have given an ippon, ending the fight. But it ended up being really being a wazari.

Rafa followed with a lot of attitude, but the Mongolian athlete came up. Leader of the world rankings, Dorjsuren have to pursue her in the final minute. Nothing would take the gold away from Rafa. And the time was up. Gold for Brazil. Gold for Silva.

Source: Cidade Verde, Zero Hora

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. Fantastic! Sloppy writing though–I had the read five paragraphs before the writer mentions what she one her gold medal in.

  2. Rafa, I know a lot about you or your country except it is in South America part of the Caribbean. As a black woman you have inspired the black race. You are a hero, you have done well celebrate your victory. You wear the victor’s crown. All your critics who jeered you have to celebrate with you. Continue to be that beacon in your community, your country and the world. CONGRATULATIONS!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.