RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — China thrived at the Beijing Games in 2008. Britain excelled in London in 2012. Next year, Brazil will try to show it can produce a historic performance at its home Olympics.
The nation is working hard to make sure its athletes can be successful at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016, investing record amounts to get them ready to perform well in front of a home crowd.
Nations usually improve their performance at home, but there are still doubts about what Brazil can do considering this is a country where soccer is king and one that has invested little in Olympic sports. Brazil started paying more attention to its Olympic athletes only after Rio was picked as a host in 2009.
The Brazilian Olympic Committee wants to nearly double the 17 medals the country earned in London and put Brazil in the top 10 in the overall medal standings.
Brazil invested about $350 million from 2009 until the London Games, and a record $700 million in public and private funds are expected to be spent over the four-year leading to Rio. The government launched a plan in 2012 to try to boost the country’s performance in part by building new training centers and hiring foreign coaches.
“Our investments now are closer to what some of the top 10 nations have been spending, but the difference is that most of them have been spending this for the past 20 or 24 years,” said Marcus Vinicius Freire, executive director of sport for the Brazilian Olympic Committee.
Officials are optimistic thanks in part to recent results in high-level international competitions.
In 2013, Brazil had its best results in the first year following an Olympics. The country won 27 medals compared to seven after Sydney, 11 after Athens and nine after Beijing. In 2014, the second year after the previous Olympics, Brazil won 12 medals and had 12 athletes ranked in the top three in their sport. In 2010, two years after Beijing, Brazil had only eight medals and seven athletes among the top three in their sport.
“Brazil has a realistic goal for its home games,” said Alvaro Jose, a longtime Olympic specialist in Brazil. “The country can’t aim for much more. It takes 15 years to prepare an athlete and Brazil only recently started preparing seriously for these games. If these investments continue going forward, then it can aim for higher goals in Tokyo and other games in the future.”
Brazil has historically done well in sports such as volleyball, beach volleyball, judo and sailing. It also has had success with a few athletes in swimming, athletics and equestrian events. The goal in Rio will be to contend in more sports. There is already hope for medals in soccer, handball, gymnastics, boxing, tennis and even archery. Judo and sailing are the two sports where Brazilians performed the best, with 19 medals in judo and 17 in sailing.
Brazil brought in 40 coaches from 17 different nationalities to help improve its athletes’ chances. The world’s fifth-largest country, with a population of more than 200 million, Brazil is expected to have a delegation of more than 400 athletes in Rio. It’s by far the most the country has ever had at an Olympics. Part of the reason for the increase is that the host nation automatically qualifies for most events.
Among the Brazilians expected to stand out are swimmer Cesar Cielo, the gold medalist in the 50-meter freestyle in Beijing and a two-time winner in the 2013 world championships; gymnast Arthur Zanetti, the current Olympic champion in the rings; sailor Robert Scheidt, one of Brazil’s greatest Olympians with five medals; Fabiana Murer, a perennial contender in women’s pole vault; female judo fighters Sarah Menezes and Rafaela Silva; modern pentathlon star Yane Marques; Poliana Okimoto, the open water swimmer of the year in 2014; and high jumper Duda, a two-time indoor world champion.
A surprise may come from 17-year-old archer Marcus Vinicius D’Almeida, who made headlines last year by finishing second in the archery World Cup at age 16.
There is hope the women’s handball team can repeat its triumph from two years ago in the world championship, and there are huge expectations about Brazil’s soccer teams — with Neymar and Marta likely in action, they will be trying to win the nation’s first gold in the sport.
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