Rebeca Andrade’s silver medal gives Brazil its first Olympic medal for women’s gymnastics; Simone Biles seen cheering her on in the stands
By Marques Travae
I have to admit that it’s often times frustrating watching Brazilian athletes when it’s Olympic and, increasingly, World Cup time. In only one more year, it will be 20 years since the celebrated five-time World Cup Brazilian national soccer team has won the title, with seemingly one disappointing performance after another. The worst undoubtedly being the 2014 disaster that saw the Brazilians get blown off the field on their home turf to the powerful German team by a score of 7-1.
But besides that, there have been a number of disappointments that I’ve seen just since I started following Brazil in world sporting events starting in 2002. In the games in Athens of 2004, for example, the world champion gymnast Daiane dos Santos came in as the favorite for the gold. And with good reason. With her accomplishments, she had earned a number ‘’firsts’’ and even had a sophisticated move named after her.
But it wasn’t meant to be as Daiane committed error after error in her routines and ended up coming in fifth place. Being in Bahia at the time, I still remember the collective sigh of the family I was visiting at the time as we watched one her performances, everyone just kind of wondering, ‘’What happened?’’
During those same Olympic games, the women’s volleyball team was also favored for the gold. The Grand Prix champions eliminated the Americans and faced the Russians in the final. As the Brazilians breezed through the first sets winning 25-18 and 25-21, the Russians managed to come back in the third set, winning 25-22. The match still seemed to be in the bag in the fourth set as the brasileiras led 24-19, a point away from victory and a first trip to the final in its history.
But then something unbelievable happened as the team blew six match points in the final set, allowing the Russians to win 28-26. They went on to lose the tie-breaker and snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory.
Then there was gymnast Diego Hypólito, who arrived at the Beijing Olympics as the favorite to win the gold medal in the floor exercise. It seemed a sure thing as he had come in after winning gold in two of the previous three world championships (Melbourne 2005 and Stuttgart 2007), as well as a silver in Aarhus in 2006. Everyone expected him to become the Brazilian medalist in gymnastics.
In the beginning, it was going well. But then in his last routine he fell and wound-up finishing in only sixth place. Brazil would have to wait another four years to earn its first medal when Arthur Zanetti’s earned the gold.
Now, in Tokyo 2020, with the seemingly unbeatable Simone Biles out of the competition, Rebeca Andrade had the chance to claim the gold and was considered the favorite for some. I didn’t see the final, and would only become aware of the outcome this morning.
The 22-year-old Andrade didn’t quite get the gold, but still ended up making history in Brazilian artistic gymnastics after winning the silver medal in the individual event in Tokyo’s Olympic Games, earning the country’s first Olympic medal for women’s gymnastics.
Rebeca totaled 57.298 points on the four apparatus, trailing the American Sunisa Lee, who scored 57.433 points, taking the gold and ahead of Angelina Melnikova, from the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), who totaled 57.199 points, claiming the bronze medal. Even with the silver medal being a huge achievement, Andrade still has chances to take home more medals in the vault and floor competitions coming up on Sunday (August 1).
Rebeca got off to an amazing start in the high-flying Cheng vault, the first of the four apparatus, attaining a score of 15.300, which was the highest among her competitors. Rebeca then went on to achieve another great score, 14.666 on the uneven bars.
Then, on her turn on the beam, she scored 13.566, but the technical commission immediately filed an appeal, which was eventually accepted, bringing her score to 13.666. Before her solo performance, Rebeca came in third place overall. In the last apparatus, Rebeca committed two minor but costly errors (stepping off the platform), receiving a score of 13.666. The overall performance on the four apparatus was good enough for her to claim the silver medal and the become the country’s best female performance in the Olympic Games. Up to this point, Brazil has earned seven medals at the Tokyo 2020 games.
For Rebeca, who damaged the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee in 2019 and had to endure three operations, the achievement was extra special.
The athlete returned to rigorous training at the start of 2020, and it was only earlier this year that she was able to secure her spot in Tokyo with her winning performance at the Pan American Gymnastics individual event in Rio de Janeiro.
After American favorite Simone Biles decided to step out of the competition to focus on her mental health, Rebeca Andrade qualified for the general individual final in Tokyo after placing second.
Rebeca didn’t quite overcome American Sunisa Lee in the event that identifies the most complete gymnast in the world, individual, which totals the results from all four apparatus. Rebeca’s success comes in the path blazed by those who preceded her.
Brazilian gymnasts such as Daiane dos Santos, Daniele Hypolito, Jade Barbosa, and Flávia Saraiva had all earned medals in international competitions, but Olympic medals still eluded Brazil, which, even with good performances, saw chances for medals at the highest stage of athletic events slip beyond its grasp.
This all changed with Rebeca’s performance at the Ariake Gymnastic Center, in the heart of the Tokyo Olympic Games. In the first two events, Rebeca took the lead. Even with a lesser score than in the qualifiers, she came out ahead of the competition in the vault, where she put on an excellent performance to receive 15.300 and come out ahead of the pack.
With a score of 14.666, the Brazilian woman remained ahead of the 24 finals after a flawless performance on the uneven bars in an even more challenging series than the one she performed in the qualifying rounds. The third item, the beam, was what made difference for her challenger, Sunisa Lee. The American was flawless in the final, which was enough to earn her the gold.
Rebecca performed her act in the qualifying round to an orchestrated version of São Paulo funkeiro MC João’s 2015 funk hit, “Baile de favela.” The 2015 song became a symbol of a culture and a generation that are often scorned and ostracized by the country’s elites, and has become iconic in the funk dances of the city’s outskirts. Rebeca’s routine introduced Brazil’s funk beat to a global audience. “Bringing funk culture to the other side of the world was incredible,” said the gymnast as she left the stage.
The music chosen by Andrade has only added to the heritage of the Brazilian women’s gymnastics team, winning Brazilian and international audiences with thrilling performances. As highlighted in a prior post, nearly two decades ago, Daiane do Santos, captivated the audience with a performance set to the Waldir Azevedo’s known as “Brasileirinho”, which earned her a gold medal at the 2003 World Championships. In Beijing 2008, dos Santos competed in the finals, but due to numerous errors, came up short of earning a medal.
Only India, which has no Olympic tradition, didn’t compete in the final of the world’s 12 largest economies. In some way, the competition for the title of best gymnast in the world is another example of international geopolitics.
China, Russia, and the United States all possess massive training facility structure, each with a consolidated gymnastics school, with all attempting to reach the top slot of the podium.
In 2021, the winner’s circle presented two of these superpowers, the United States and Russia, but also a little Brazilian girl managed to make to the height of the world gymnastics competition coming from a small home that she shared with her eight siblings in Guarulhos, São Paulo. The modest home was all that her mother Rosa, who worked as a maid, could afford.
Rebeca’s accomplishment is an accomplishment for Brazil, a country that showed so much promise just a decade ago but which has fallen on hard times in recent years. Andrade was invited to train at the Flamengo athletic club in Rio as a youngster. To train, she followed in the footsteps of Diego and Daniele Hypolito, who had traveled the Via Dutra highway a decade and a half before. From a young age, she was regarded as a diamond in the rough by the famous club whose colors are the red and black club as well as by the Brazilian Gymnastics Confederation (CBG).
She was already seen as the top gymnast in the country by the age of 12, claiming the Brazilian title in 2012 ahead of Daniele Hypolito and Jade Barbosa. She could have even competed in the London Olympics at the age of 13, even younger than recent medal winning skater, Rayssa Leal, and had great prospects of winning a medal in the vault, but she had to put these hopes on hold as the sport has a minimum age requirement for the protection of children and adolescents. As such, her debut as an adult had to wait until 2015, when she turned 16.
But then her hopes were sidelines by injuries.
Her first injury prevented her from competing in the Pan American Games and the World Championships in 2015. Already poised for a medal in Rio in 2016, she finished third in the individual classification phase, and she began the final in third place, performing well, but becoming emotionally unbalanced after failing on the uneven bars.
In 2015, the first injury left her out of the Pan American Games and the World Championships that year. In 2016, she arrived at the Rio Olympics already posed for a medal. She was third in the individual classification phase, started the final in third, jumping very well, but got emotionally unbalanced after failing on the uneven bars. The various errors she committed would her to coming in 11th place on the beam and the floor.
The time has come
With age, injuries and mental errors leading her past failures, it appeared that it would be Tokyo where Rebeca would finally be able to put it all together and achieve the fruits of her dedication. But then other obstacles came.
She suffered nagging injuries in 2017 in the arena where the World Championships were to be held, and again in 2019, during the Brazilian Championships.
As a result of the latter, she faced a major possibility of missing the Olympics in June 2019. She was unable to assist Brazil at the World Cup because the team failed to qualify as a unit and began a race against the clock to qualify for the World Cup stage in Doha in March. However, that tournament was called off before the final because the world confronted the coronavirus pandemic.
As it turned out, the young Brazilian woman benefited from the postponement of the Games because this bought extra time, a whole year, to prepare for the Pan-American Championship, a qualifying event. And it was there that she demonstrated that she would not only come to Tokyo, but that she would also enter as a top contender.
Upon her arrival in Japan, she made a great impression on the podium training in Japan, giving other gymnasts a sneak peek into what she was capable of, going on to shine in the classification round. With 57.399 points, she was second only to Simone Biles, the six-time American Olympic medalist who has been the world’s best gymnast since 2013.
At this point, it’s still uncertain whether Biles will compete in the apparatus finals next week. Rebeca will compete and has a legitimate chance to win two more medals. The pole vault final will be held on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. (Brazilian time). With the third best score, she got to the finals and has a good chance of winning gold, especially if Biles remains on the sidelines.
Rebeca took up the sport as a little girl because of an aunt who worked at the Bonifácio Cardoso Gymnasium, in the city of Guarulhos. She decided to take her niece there, hoping that the energetic little girl would have some fun while giving her some tranquility at home. She was immediately tagged “Daiane dos Santos 2” because her prowess in the sport. And now Rebeca has earned the precious medal that alluded even Daiane.
Rebeca’s performance earned her one more supporter, if not a fan. None other than Simone Biles was seen cheering for Andrade from the stands during the final. Simone jumped out of her chair, waved her arms and showed her excitement during the Brazilian woman’s routine, causing an outpouring of comments on social networks used by Brazilians.
Rebeca’s performance has made an entire nation proud. And even if she came up a few points short of the gold, who knows, maybe she’ll get it four years from now.
Congrats to Rebeca Andrade.