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RIO 2108 - Thiago Braz: the Brazilian Olympic hero
Seg, 22 de Agosto de 2016 23:26

Thiago Braz: new Olympic hero almost unknown before Rio 2016...

 (Rio de Janeiro, BR Press) - Neither footballer Neymar nor judoka Rafaela Silva. As the Rio Olympic Games reach the end, the host country has elected a new and until then unknown Olympic hero: Thiago Braz da Silva. Coming almost from nowhere to win gold on Monday night (August 15th) in a dramatic pole vault competition at the Olympic Stadium, the Brazilian took people present in the stadium and watching on TV to the highest excitement.  

With his winning vault of 6.03m, Braz defeated favourite London 2012 champion Renaud Lavillenie of France and set a new Olympic record into the bargain. Brazilians and the media went crazy. Who is he? “He did it! He did it!”, BBC commenter and ex dart thrower Steve Backley shout. There was the 22-year-old from Marília, in the state of São Paulo: an almost complete strange to the world of athletics. 

“How the hell has he done it?”, Backley asked astonished. The former British retired track and field athlete Steve Cram declared: “I’ve seen loads of things during all these years in competitions and watching athletic contests. But this is one of the best moments: the crowd, a local talent, higher then ever, better then ever."

Making history

In 2012, Braz became world junior champion in Barcelona, Spain, with the mark of 5.55 meters. In February this year, Braz reached 5.93 meters in athletics tournament indoor ISTAF in Berlin, leaving in second place the French Lavillenie. That was the best mark in the history of South America. 

In Rio 2016, Lavillenie had to settle for silver with 5.98m with the USA's Sam Kendricks taking bronze with a vault of 5.85m. Lavillenie had to settle for silver with 5.98m with the USA's Sam Kendricks taking bronze with a vault of 5.85m. "It is gold to Thiago Braz da Silva of Brazil. The people in the stands are crying," tweeted the BBC's Tom Fordyce while n the Engenhão stadium. "This may be just what Brazil was expecting."

 Here are 10 factors behind the rise of the young man who won Brazil's first gold medal in men's athletics for more than 30 years:

1. Grandparents:

Thiago Braz da Silva was only three years old when his mother abandoned him. He was brought up by his grandparents, who always encouraged him to follow his pole vaulting dream. "They were my parents, I owe them everything," Braz has said. 

2. Family man:

Braz has been married since the age of 21. Wife Ana Paula de Oliveira is also an athlete and has helped Braz at difficult times, such as when he was recovering from an injury back in 2014. It was his uncle, the former athlete Fabiano Braz, that attracted him to the sport.

The young talent began to be polished by coach Elson Miranda de Souza, husband and coach of the jumper Fabiana Murer.

3. Faith

Thiago often mentions God in his interviews, although he prefers not to be called religious. He has a close connection to his priest, who has supported him on his journey to gold. 

4. Commitment

Braz trains in Italy, in the town of Fórmia near Rome. Braz's hard work here has led to silver medals in the Youth Olympic Games and now gold at Rio 2016. He also picked up English and Italian along the way.

5. Training

Braz trains under the watchful eye of none other than Ukraine's Vitaly Petrov, who also trained pole vaulting legends Sergei Bubka and Yelena Isinbayeva. Thiago Braz, as well as Arthur Zanetti (Silver/Gymnastics) and Rafaela Silva (Gold/Judo) are members of the Brazilian Ministry of Defense’s Program for High-Performance Athletes. It is essentially a sponsorship deal, which provides athletes with a salary from the military – something around $1,000 per month – and have all the rights of a “typical” soldier: pensions, health and dental plans, and the possibility to use any facility in the country.

6. Lows

Braz had a difficult problem couple of years before Rio 2016, suffering an injury and then failing at the Pan American Games of Toronto in 2015. That frustration turned into a valuable learning experience.

7. Highs

Supported by Vitaly Petrov, Braz worked on his technique and on the always crucial psychological and strategic elements of pole vaulting. At Rio 2016, he reaped the greatest reward possible in the discipline.

8. Home crowd hero

It was a night to remember in the Olympic Stadium. Buoyed by fervent support from a partisan crowd, Braz was able to channel the energy of thousands of fans into Brazil's first men's athletics gold since Los Angeles 1984.

9. Strategy 

When Braz saw Renaud Lavillenie fly over 5.98m with ease, Petrov indicated to Braz that his time had come; the time to vault more than 6m for the first time in his life. With an unforgettable, technically perfect vault, soaring 11cm above his previous personal best, Braz made Brazilian history and set a new Olympic record. "I've been waiting for it a long time," he said. 

10. Rivalry

Braz and Renaud Lavillenie don't get along. According to Braz, the Frenchman hasn't spoken to him for more than a year. Braz gets along better with US bronze medal winner Sam Hendricks, who was among the first to congratulate him for after he jumped into the record books and into Brazilian sporting history.

Asked about how he managed to deal with the pressure of the Olympics, Thiago Braze explained: “You have to keep cool, positive, quiet, concentrated on what will work. I keep searching for this balance and try to do my best at the same time”. And what are his feelings on Rio? “What I will take for ever is the energy of the public – I has the impression that everyone was cheering for me”.

As the BBC Sport tweeted: “There are grown men in tears. Remember the name Thiago Braz da Silva – he has just won GOLD for Brazil!