She was not a favorite, but began to emerge as a contender after Simone Biles retired. The Brazilian Rebeca Andrade showed in Tokyo a talent that her injuries had kept in the shade and made history for her country, with the first medal for a woman in artistic gymnastics, a silver in the complete exercise.
Andrade was already a finalist in this test (the compendium of the four apparatuses) in Rio 2016, where she finished eleventh at the age of 17, but the first crush of love of Olympic gymnastics for the young woman born in Guarulhos, on the outskirts of São Paulo, It was in Tokyo, thanks to his presentation of the floor or hands-free in the classification, which he did to the rhythm of the funk Baile da Favela.
It was a nod from Rebeca to an origin that she does not hide and of which she is proud. Born in a poor neighborhood, with a single mother who raised seven children working as a domestic worker, this embrace of her roots allowed her to become a favorite overnight, also because she finished second in the qualifying round and because the first , Simone Biles, decided to take a surprise step to the side.
It was not the first time that a Brazilian gymnast captivated by appealing to expressions of popular culture to set the mood for her floor exercise. In 2003, Rebeca’s idol, Daiane Dos Santos, wore Waldir Azevedo’s Brazilian choro Brasileirinho, at the Anaheim World Cup, and thus won her historic gold.
The decisions of a girl
For Rebeca it all started the same as for many girls. Too energetic for the aunt and caregiver to contain that whirlwind, she came to sport for the first time to drain energy at the Bonifacio Cardoso gym. It quickly began to be described as “the new Daiane Dos Santos”.
But there were seven children to take care of and soon the task of taking Rebeca to training fell to the older brother, who was taking her by bicycle “one day yes and three days no”, as she remembers.
Thus he reached his first crossroads. At the age of nine, he had to make the decision, supported by his mother, to go to Curitiba, 440 km from home, to be able to live in the complex where he would train.
“It was not going to evolve,” recalled Rebeca, in an interview with Globo Esporte. “When I was given the opportunity to go live with the coordinator and the coaches, she (her mother Rosa) let me go. That opened doors for me. If she had prevented her daughter, so young, so tiny (from leaving), I would not be here today ”.
Two years later, a new move took her to São Paulo, to train with the Flamengo Regatas Club, and the results of her decisions were seen in 2012, when, at the age of 13, she won the Brazil Trophy.
The first great international success quickly arrived, the triumph in the Invitational Nadia Comaneci in Oklahoma, as the mythical Romanian gymnast who gives the event its name recalled this Thursday on Twitter.
A Rebecca on the rise had no idea of the nightmare that was coming, and that consumed six years of her sporting life, until an unexpected twist of fate once again set her on the path to success.
A broken champion: the fight for return
The first stroke was a fractured toe that forced her to miss her first big engagement, the 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympics.
A year later, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee for the first time, underwent surgery and missed nine months of competition. He returned in March 2016 and managed to get ready in time for the Rio 2016 Games.
After that, she reached seven podiums in World Cups, including another stoppage due to a right ankle injury that forced her to keep her leg immobilized for two months.
But in October 2017 the ligament broke again and Rebeca had to be operated on again. Coming back took almost a year and meant missing the Montreal World Championship.
Back in the competition, he hung up two gold and one silver medals at the Cottbus World Cup in November 2018, but eight months later, while participating in the Brazil team selectives for the Lima 2019 Pan American Games, his nightmare returned and the ligament in his right knee tore once more.
The operation was more complex this time, because it involved removing a piece of the patellar tendon from the left knee to make a graft to repair the one on the right, as well as a reconstruction of the anterolateral ligament.
The recovery took him from June 2019 to March 2020, with just enough time to seek qualification for Tokyo 2020. The retirement became a stage.
“It is logical that the desire to stop training crossed my mind,” he acknowledged. “I thought I would not be able to return and I talked about it with my mother: ‘I don’t want to train anymore, I want to go home.’ And she told me: ‘no, your mother is not going to let you stop without trying.’ If I had stopped then, look at everything I would have missed. Evolution as a human being, not just as an athlete, that I would have lost ”.
Rebeca managed to return and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic gave her a whole year to complete her recovery, and take advantage of the last opportunity she had left, the Pan-American Championship in Rio de Janeiro, to seal her ticket to Tokyo, with a first place in the full exercise.
Rebeca Andrade makes history
With her Tokyo result, Rebeca became the first Brazilian woman to climb onto an Olympic artistic gymnastics podium, a feat not even accomplished by Daiane Dos Santos in her prime, Athens 2004, where she was fifth.
Daiane herself, acting as a commentator on Brazilian television, could not help but burst into tears in front of the cameras, celebrating the sporting feat, but also the social conquest of Andrade.
“They said we blacks couldn’t play certain sports. A black, Brazilian woman, with a single mother, of humble origins, who suffered many injuries, today she was the second best athlete in the world. It is very representative ”, the winner of nine gold medals in World Cups managed to articulate through tears.
“For the first medal of Brazil, the World Gymnastics World Cup was black. A first medal from Brazil in Ginástica feminina was black. Isso is very important. They say that people could not be in places ”.
To the emotion of Daiane dos Santos gives the dimension of the feito of Rebeca. pic.twitter.com/3VuGivVVt7
– Dibradoras (@dibradoras) July 29, 2021
Rebeca joins a pantheon of gymnastics that includes three male Olympic medalists: Arthur Zanetti (gold in rings in London 2012 and silver in the same apparatus in Rio 2016) and Diego Hypolito and Arthur Nory, who shared the floor podium in Rio, with a silver and a bronze, respectively.
She has two new opportunities to continue making history, as she is classified for the jump and floor finals. So far, only one Brazilian, the canoeist Isaquias Queiroz, has managed to win three medals in the same edition of the Olympic Games. Whether or not that primacy is at risk will be known between Sunday and Monday, when the two definitions are disputed.