Silva's golden respite for Brazil
Brazil has been going through a difficult time of late. A bitter political crisis and continued recession has left deep scars on the psyche of its people. The Brazilians were looking for a tonic; something to keep that gloom away from their collective conscience, and nothing could have been more uplifting than Olympic success in these hard times.
With a 465-member contingent in Rio, second only in size to the USA, the Brazilians were hoping that their home Olympics would help the country to a record medal tally. But the first three days of the games yielded only failure and disappointment, except for one silver medal which came in shooting. Brazilian men's football have been flirting with elimination while their men's beach volleyball team suffered a close defeat against Cuba. Even judo, which has earned the most medals for Brazil in its Olympic history, failed to provide any hope.
That is until Monday however, as the sorry sequence ended thanks to Rafaela Silva -- a woman who rose from the depths of slum life to the height of gold medallist Olympian. Competing in the under-57kg category, the 24-year-old beat top seed Sumiya Dorjsuren of Mongolia for the gold medal to add to the world championship title she won three years ago.
In a sense, Silva epitomizes the hardship and passion of the Brazilian public. Born into the notorious Didade de Deus (City of God) favela, she had a difficult upbringing. She has seen people get killed in front of her eyes in violent gang fights on her way to school. She herself had got into fights with kids on many occasions. To ensure that she could take responsibility for herself, one day her father admitted her to a judo school, which proved to be a defining moment for her life.
There she practised from morning till night for days on end to become a top-level judoka. In 2011 she won a silver medal at the world championships. Two years later, she won gold. But an Olympic medal was still missing from her cabinet. Going into the 2012 London Olympics, she was one of the favourites to win a medal. But disaster struck as she was disqualified due to an illegal move in a preliminary round match.
To make matters worse, she was rounded up on the internet by trolls who mocked and derided her, calling her names. Things got so depressing that she even contemplated abandoning the sport altogether. But with the help of a psychologist, she got her peace of mind back and became more resolute.
On Monday, all that struggle and hard work paid off, all the humiliation washed away as she raised her arms to the deafening cheers at the Carioca Arena 2 after beating the Mongolian opponent. She struggled to hold herself together, never mind the tears that came out gushing. Later, a little composed, she told reporters how she felt: "God knows how much I've suffered and what I've done to get here.
"I believe some of my family and friends did not have the money to buy tickets to see me. The kids would love it and I want to create a dream for them, because nobody there [in the favela] has a dream," she said, further hoping that this medal would open the doors for more medals for Brazil this week.