The Cristo Redentor (pictured above) is the landmark statue of Rio de Janeiro, city that up until April 21st, 1960 was the capital of Brazil.
In August of 2002 Rio was awarded the Pan-American Games that were to be hosted in 2007 and seven years later, in 2009, Rio was awarded an even bigger honor, the 2016 Olympic Games set to take place from August 5th till the 21st. With this designation Brazil became only the second Latin-American city to host the Olympic Games after Mexico City was the host 48 years ago.
Brazil and Mexico will also share the rare similarity of hosting the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games with only two years difference. For Mexico it was the Olympic Games in 1968 and the FIFA World Cup in 1970 and for Brazil the FIFA World Cup came first in 2014 and the Olympics will arrive in August of this year.
Rio is home to the famous Maracaná stadium that hosted the FIFA World Cup Finals in 1950 and 2014. In the first final home-team and absolute favourite Brazil lost the match to Uruguay just 11 minutes before the game was over, the defeat is popularly known as the “Maracanazo”; 64 years later in 2014 the Maracaná, once again, hosted the World Cup Final where Germany rose the World Cup. In the way to the final Germany had defeated host Brazil 7 goals to 1 in what became known as the “Mineirazo”.
The football defeats were particularly upsetting for Brazil since football is the country’s most developed sport, however little by little gymnastics has paved its way in and today Brazil stands as the most developed Latin-American country in the sport of gymnastics. For the Olympics the Maracaná stadium will serve as venue for much happier events: the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympiad.
Speaking of Brazil’s rise in gymnastics three of the gymnasts that have contributed to its development were born in Rio:
- Luisa Parente, (b. 1973) the first Brazilian gymnast to attend two Olympic Games, Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992.
- Jade Barbosa, (b. 1991) the first, and to date, only Brazilian gymnast to win a medal in the all-around at a World Championships (2007).
- Flávia Saraiva (b. 1999) who in 2014 became Brazil’s first medalist at the Youth Olympic Games collecting three medals in Nanning, China.
From those three gymnasts one was present at the 2007 Pan-Americans, Jade Barbosa, and the competition must have been particularly special for her as she was representing her country at the very own city where she was born.
Back in 2007 gymnastics was going through a very big transformation since it was only the second year of the open-ended code and gymnasts were adding massive difficulty as it was now worth a lot more than it had been in the past. Among the most benefited countries by the new rules was the United States and in 2007 they sent one of their strongest teams to the PanAmerican Games. Their stand outs were:
- Shawn Johnson who was crowned Pan-American all-around champion in Rio and a few months later became World All-Around Champion.
- Anastasia Liukin who attended PanAms as an specialist, competing only bars and beam, as she was recovering from injury at the time. A year later she would become the 2008 Olympic all-around champion.
- Rebecca Bross, who had just turned 14 a few days before the start of the Games, took gold on the Floor Exercise. Two years later she would go on to become the 2009 World all-around silver medallist.
Rebecca, like Canadian gymnasts Christine “Peng Peng” Lee, Charlotte Mackie and Brittanny Rogers was a junior at the time, since they were all born in 1993. Back then the rules allowed teams to include both senior and junior members. From those four gymnasts only Brittany Rogers continues to compete and is a strong favourite for the Canadian Olympic Team.
The Canadian PanAmerican team would be awarded team bronze after Mexico, the original bronze medallist, was disqualified due to the discovery that one their gymnasts, Marisela Arizmendi, had been mistakenly accredited as an official instead of a gymnast. A technical error cost the Mexican team the only medal they had earned in the competition.
A standout of the Mexican team was Elsa García, who at the time was only 17 years old. Elsa’s history with the Olympics is not a happy one since she missed out in 2008 and got injured before the start of the competition in 2012. In hopes to have a better luck in the 2007 PanAms city Elsa continued to train but saw her road to Rio broken when she was not selected to represent Mexico at the Rio Test Event.
The Test Event, did however award Jessica López, her third pass to an Olympic Games. Back in 2007, 21-year-old Jessica, finished only 20th in the all-around. The next year she would attend her first Olympics marking the start of an ascending career.
From the Brazilian team present at the 2007 PanAms, Daniele Hypólito was already a two-time Olympian at the age of the 22 while Rio-born Jade Barbosa was the 16-year-old prodigy that made the national anthem play at home when she won gold on vault. Aside from the vault title, Brazil claimed team silver as well as all four bronzes in the individual apparatus finals: Lais Souza won both vault and bars bronze, Daniele Hypólito won beam’s and Jade won Floor’s.
From the 2007 team only Daniele Hypólito and Jade Barbosa continue to compete. Daniele at age 31 is determined to finish her career at home attending her fifth Olympics, while Jade hopes to return to Rio for her second Olympics and beam prodigy and Rio-born Flávia Saraiva, is set to join her teammates and make their country proud.