Rafaela Silva wins Brazil’s 1st gold of Rio Olympics in judo
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — From the favela to the top of the podium, Rafaela Silva earned Brazil’s first gold medal of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
And to celebrate, the 24-year-old judo champion shed tears as she jumped into the exuberant crowd with a Brazilian flag wrapped around her shoulders.
“I hope my medal now will open the door for Brazil to win many more medals,” Silva said.
Silva, who grew up in the country’s largest slum and became the country’s first female world champion in judo in 2013, won the 57-kilogram division of the Japanese martial art on Monday as the crowd chanted “Rafa” and waved the green and yellow Brazilian flags.
In the final, Silva beat Sumiya Dorjsuren of Mongolia after two days of disappointment on the mat for Brazil.
But the victory provided some vindication for the racial abuse Silva, who is black, endured from Brazilians after missing out on a medal at the 2012 London Games. Four years ago, she received text messages telling her “the place for a monkey is in a cage.”
“The monkey that they said had to be locked up in a cage in London is today an Olympic champion at home,” Silva said. “Today, I’m not an embarrassment for my family.”
At the last Olympics, Silva was disqualified for an illegal leg grab during a fight against Hedvig Karakas of Hungary. This time, Silva beat Karakas in the quarterfinals.
Silva, who trained at a judo dojo founded by former Olympic bronze medalist Flavio Canto, was in top form for much of the day. Her first match lasted only 46 seconds.
With its strong martial arts culture — including many shared techniques between Brazilian jiu jitsu, mixed martial arts and judo — Brazil had been expected to do well early on in the judo competition. But defending Olympic champion Sarah Menezes narrowly lost out on a bronze on Saturday in the 48kg category, and so did Erika Miranda at 52kg on Sunday.
The women’s bronze medals went to Kaori Matsumoto of Japan — the London Games champion — and Telma Monteiro of Portugal.
In the men’s 73-kilogram division, Shohei Ono of Japan beat Rustam Orujov of Azerbaijan for gold.
Ono is a two-time world champion and threw Orujov twice during the final, including a match-ending ippon with more than one minute left on the clock.
It is Japan’s first judo gold of the Rio Olympics after taking four bronze medals in the first two days of the competition. The Japanese men’s team was shut out of gold medals at the London Games, the first time they had failed to win any events in the sport.
“Japanese judo has a mission to win gold,” Ono said. “I certainly feel pressure, but it just drives me to perform.”
The men’s bronze medals were won by Dirk Van Tichelt of Belgium and Lasha Shavdatuashvili of Georgia, who was the Olympic champion in the 66-kilogram category before moving up a weight division.