Rafaela Silva won the first gold medal for Brazil at the Rio 2016 Olympics on Monday 8th August, but that’s just part of her remarkable story.
Raised in Cidade de deus, a violent and poverty-stricken favela in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Silva claimed the victory over Mongalia’s Dorjsürengiin Sumiya in the 57-kilogram division, winning the Gold medal for Judo.
Silva competed in the 2012 games in London, but was disqualified after using an illegal hold during the preliminary rounds. This was a knock for the athlete, but what came next would have her reconsider her position in sport completely. Upon exiting the London games, Silva was the victim to a tirade of racial abuse online, something which almost broke her spirit.
“I was very sad because I had lost the fight,” Silva told CBC recently of her 2012 bout. “So I walked to my room, I found all those insults on social media, they were criticizing me, calling me monkey, so I got really, really upset. I thought about leaving judo.”
Silva’s coach and mentor, Geraldo Bernardes, said of the incident; “She never showed that she would give up on the sport until 2012, when she was disqualified at the Olympics. There were a lot of racist comments on social media. Nasty ones. And she answered some of them, fighting in social media, and got really angry. Then she got scared of going out on the streets and being harassed. I was afraid she would give up on the sport.”
Thankfully, Silva decided to fight on. The following year, through perseverance and determination, Silva became the 2013 world champion in judo. In the run up to the Rio Games, The New York Times ran an extensive feature on the judo star, in which she stated;
“The only medal I don’t have is an Olympic medal. To have a chance to win one in front of my family and friends is priceless.”
— Olympic Channel (@olympicchannel) August 8, 2016
— Olympics (@Olympics) August 8, 2016
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) August 8, 2016