‘Why didn’t you choose a sport more ideal for your biotype?’ – Daiane dos Santos, Brazil’s greatest gymnast, speaks on being a black woman in gymnastics

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Note from BW of Brazil: As mentioned in our earlier post on Daiane dos Santos, a feature on the woman who is recognized as the most successful Brazilian athlete in gymnastics has been long overdue! But the timing is still great as Daiane recently granted an interview to blogger Eliana Alves and spoke very candidly on issues such as race and gender in her climb to the top of the gymnastics field in the first decade of the 21st century. Her comments mirror those of many Afro-Brazilians who enter into areas where they are considered “out of their place”. (1) In other words, if you’re black and Brazilian, you are expected to ‘remain in the kitchen‘, dance/sing samba very well, excel in futebol (but only as players), open doors or be involved in some sort of illicit activity. But as Daiane and numerous have proved, the ‘place’ of  a black Brazilian is wherever he or she chooses to be!

Daiane dos Santos comemora o bronze no evento-teste em Londres

Daiane dos Santos: “Dare more!”

“Bah, the guria (girl) has had to hear that she is beautiful since the day of her birth!” I was listening to her delicious gaúcho accent as I talked to Daiane dos Santos – the girl of 1,46m (4’9”) that enchanted the world with her explosion and precision in artistic gymnastics , making complex and at the same time harmonious movements to sound of the choro (2) ‘Brasileirinho’ by Waldir Azevedo. We talked about sports, about projects, about being a woman and especially about being black woman.

by Eliana Alves

Daiane on January 13, 2012 in London, England
Daiane on January 13, 2012 in London, England

The conversation, which was to be quick, because we were both in intervals of activities in a chat on the phone, was exciting and taking the time that, at least for me, was excellent and precious.

What motivated me to talk to Daiane was following crazy and periodic reports of a friend, the recent drama of her daughter, a little black girl who practiced gymnastics in a well-known club. Excluded by colleagues and their mothers – many didn’t even look at her – and despite her good results, belittled by the staff in everyday situations, the child was depressed and discouraged to continue in the sport.

Whoever saw the powerful Daiane in action on the stages of the outside world cannot imagine that she went through something very similar to what happened to the daughter of my friend. And since our conversation she began calling a spade a spade. In the words of Daiane dos Santos:


“Prejudice is a curse! It has always existed, but it was veiled. Now, especially with the internet everything is exposed at the time. Human beings are naturally prejudiced. People have the tendency to reject what is different from them. Who said that cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair) is bad? Who said negro é feio (black is ugly)? Who said that our body is less than that of any other person? Who established these standards? I think that this work of self-esteem has to be done at home (3). Many families don’t prepare children to face it. They deny the existence and then when the girl goes into the world she suffers. I understand you because it hurts when we see a child being the target of discrimination. It hurts her and it hurts us.”

Pan-American Games in Winnipeg in 1999
Pan-American Games in Winnipeg in 1999

Recalling the trajectory of Daiane the athlete, she started in the sport at age 11, later than most gymnasts, which usually begin at around six years or less. She was discovered in the Associação dos Amigos do Centro Estadual de Treinamento Esportivo  (Association of the Friends of the State of Sports Training Center) by teacher Cleoza Paula and later went on to defend the Grêmio Náutico União club, both in her hometown: Porto Alegre. As complicated as the heavy training of the gym was overcoming labels and disbelief.

“It happened to me when I started to play in a big club. Some mothers and also many children didn’t talk to me! They just ignored me. I didn’t care. But why didn’t I care? I worked at home. I remember a lot of people asked, “Why did you choose gymnastics? Why didn’t you do atletismo (track and field) that has more to do with your biotype?”

“And I wondered, ‘Why couldn’t I do another sport that was not track and field? Is it a stronghold only for blacks?’ These are stereotypes that are still difficult to break, but we are making progress!”


She appeared for all of Brazil in 1999, at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada, when she won the silver in the vault and bronze in solo and in a team. Two years later, in 2001, she would end in the fifth place in the Ghent Championship in Belgium and in 2003, after moving to Curitiba where she trained with the Ukrainian coach Oleg Ostapenko, she won the first gold medal for Brazil in the history of a World Gymnastics Championships in Anaheim, California, for the first time doing the double twist carpado, a movement with very high degree of difficulty and that would earn the name Dos Santos because she was the first athlete in the world to execute it.

Catalina Ponor, Daiane and Elena Gomez - World Gymnastics Podium 2003 (AFP Photo/Robyn Beck)
Catalina Ponor, Daiane and Elena Gomez – World Gymnastics Podium 2003 (AFP Photo/Robyn Beck)

At the Athens Olympics in 2004, she arrived as a favorite, but a step away from the carpet removed her from the podium placing her in fifth place, yet this was the best result in the country’s history in the sport until then.

The cycle that led to the 2008 Beijing Games she was afflicted with serious injuries. In Pan of 2007 in Rio de Janeiro, she competed hurt, but still managed a silver medal in the teams. At the Olympics in China she surprised and got the sixth position in the solos.

Daiane decided to quit in 2013, after her third Olympics due to knee pain. In London in 2012, she was the best Brazilian in the competition, finishing in 17th place in the solo. The end of her athletic career, however, took her to other levels and freed her from long hours of preparation so that she could perform other functions and fulfill other roles in society.


“I think the world of sport is difficult for women in general and even more difficult for black women, as we face explicit and masked prejudice. Even as an adult, many people still don’t speak to me and I know why this was. This revolts you, but I always had in mind that it was not me who had to be ashamed of nothing but (in fact) them. Today I am part of the ‘Comissão da Mulher no Esporte’ (Committee on Women in Sport), of the Comitê Olímpico Brasileiro (Brazilian Olympic Committee), and we are studying some particular feminine issues in the medical and social area. We don’t want any privilege, only equal treatment and attention to our particularities.”

The specific work of gender developed by various sports federations and also by the Brazilian Olympic Committee, according Daiane and several other athletes, has proven effective.

World Cup of Gymnastics, 2012. Photo: Ricardo Bufolin
World Cup of Gymnastics, 2012. Photo: Ricardo Bufolin

“For the Brazilian Olympic team of the London Games, 45% of the medals were female, then, we see much improved. However, we still have sports in which prejudice is very strong, as in the case of fights and futebol. Much of our society still twists the nose when they see a woman fighting or playing futebol. Only now do we have a center of excellence for women and we have one of the greatest players in the world (Marta Vieira da Silva, silver medal at the Olympic Games in Athens Daiane+dos+Santos+Olympics+Day+22004 and Beijing 2008. Best player in the world by FIFA from 2006 to 2009 and the Bola de Ouro – Golden Ball – from FIFA in 2010). I am quite feminist. We are gaining a lot of space, but I think we need to come together more. I see women in general still poorly mobilized. We can more! In the specific case of black women I believe that the work done at home is 50 percent. If you hear from early on things like ‘You’re beautiful as you are. There are no equal people, each is beautiful with their difference’ everything gets easier because it’s something that you really believe. It is a value that is ingrained in you.”

Our conversation ended with a message and a challenge not only to my little gymnast friend, but for all the girls (black or not).

“For athletes who are coming out now, not just athletes, but for all the girls I would say, I want for you to be better than us. May they dare more, may they be more courageous and break all the imposed barriers.”

So it shall be, dear “Flor da Cor” (Flower of the Color), Daiane dos Santos!

“In us, even the color is a defect; an unforgivable evil from birth, the stigma of a crime. But our critics forget that this color is the source of wealth for thousands of thieves who insult us;  may this conventional color of slavery, so similar to that of the earth, shelter under its dark surface, volcanoes, where the sacred fire of liberty burns” – Luiz Gama

Source: Flor da Cor


1. A number of articles on this blog discuss the idea of black Brazilians being out of their ‘place’ or entering/excelling in fields that Brazilian society doesn’t associate with blacks. The following articles illustrate this perception.

Zaíra de Oliveira: One of the Brazil’s greatest singers that you’ve never heard of

Black Brazilian celebrities reveal their experiences with prejudice and racism

Race and “place”: Whether in an elite school or dreaming of an opera career, Brazilian society continues to tell blacks where they don’t belong

A true success story: After 20 years in Italy, 90s Dance music star Corona returns to Brazil.

Inspired by black Harvard students, black students at University of Brasília create photographic campaign against racism

Black doctor and lawyer discover what one calls a negro with a Ph.D

“What are you blacks doing here?”: Three black men beaten and electroshocked by security – How racism works in Brazil

“In the midst of so many blondes, a black woman wins”: Deise Nunes, the first and only black woman to ever win the Miss Brasil pageant

2. Choro, popularly called chorinho (“little cry” or “little lament”), is an instrumental Brazilian popular music genre which originated in 19th century Rio de Janeiro. Despite its name, the music often has a fast and happy rhythm. It is characterized by virtuosity, improvisation and subtle modulations, and is full of syncopation and counterpoint. Choro is considered the first characteristically Brazilian genre of urban popular music. The serenaders who play choros are known as chorões. Source

3. A point that many in the Afro-Brazilian community are recognizing (see here). Musician Dudu Nobre discussed this a bit in speaking on how he educates his children on racial identity.

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

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