Brazil is expected to win 20 to 30 medals at the Rio 2016 Games, perhaps 10 golds, and its top hope for an Olympic title in track and field is pole vaulter Fabiana Murer.
Murer, though, can only associate heartbreak with her two previous Olympic experiences.
The former gymnast entered the Beijing 2008 Games as the third-ranked pole vaulter in the world for the year and easily became the first Brazilian to qualify for an Olympic women’s pole vault final (the event debuted at Sydney 2000).
But Murer could not find one of her poles during the Beijing final — the one she aimed to use to clear 4.55 meters, later found in a locker for equipment used by athletes already eliminated, according to The Associated Press — decided to skip the 4.55m height after a fruitless, several-minutes search and then failed at all three attempts at 4.65m.
Murer had cleared 4.80m less than two months before the Beijing Olympics, a height that earned American Jenn Suhr silver at the Bird’s Nest that night. Murer left the iconic venue in 10th place, and in tears.
“I’m never coming back to China,” Murer reportedly said.
Murer has said she intends to break her word in August by traveling back to the Bird’s Nest for the World Championships. It will be her first competition in China since the 2008 Olympics, according to the track and field database Tilastopaja.org, and at the same venue.
In the last seven years, Murer became the first Brazilian to win a World Track and Field Championship (2011). She was consistently among the world’s three best pole vaulters, except at the London 2012 Olympics and Moscow 2013 World Championships.
In London, Murer shockingly failed to qualify for the 12-woman final after entering the competition as the third-ranked woman for the year.
She was shaken by windy conditions and aborted her final attempt at 4.55 meters while on the runway, for which she was criticized by Brazilians, including two-time Olympic volleyball medalist Gustavo on Twitter, and said she did the best she could on her Facebook page.
Brazil failed to win any Olympic track and field medals for the first time since 1992.
In Moscow in 2013, Murer finished fifth, failing to clear 4.75 meters, an indicative result for a season when she failed to clear any height greater than 4.75 for the first time since 2007.
Like in Beijing, Murer’s finishes in London and Moscow brought her to tears, according to Brazilian media.
But Murer, now 34, found success the last two seasons as the oldest woman among the elite dozen on the global circuit.
She had the three highest clearances in the world in 2014 and won the season-long Diamond League title. This year, she ranks second to the 2012 Olympic champion Suhr in best clearances and beat the American at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York last weekend, where she answered a few questions after the competition before visiting The Guggenheim:
OlympicTalk: Who would you pick to light the cauldron at the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony?
Murer: Of course I would take a track and field athlete. Joaquim Cruz was a great athlete, winning a gold medal in the Olympics [in the 800m at Los Angeles 1984] and another silver medal [in 1988]. I think he’s a great athlete to choose. Another one would be Pele.
OlympicTalk: Which Brazilian athlete, outside of the soccer players, will have the most pressure to succeed at the Rio Olympics?
Murer: In swimming, Cesar Cielo. Of course, he has medals [already, three total from 2008 and 2012], so it’s more pressure on him.
OlympicTalk: Where were you in October 2009 when Rio was chosen as host of the 2016 Olympics?
Murer: I was on vacation. I just arrived on the beach close to Recife. I just arrived in the hotel, and I was trying to see if Brazil won. Then I saw the news, and I began to receive many calls to speak about this. It was really an emotional time.
OlympicTalk: Will the Rio Olympics be your final competition?
Murer: I will finish after 2016. The Olympics, and then maybe two or three meets. I hope to compete in the last Diamond League [meet of 2016].
Before, I was thinking to retire after 2014. And then, when Brazil was selected to be the host of the Olympics, I decided to continue to 2016. I want to have this experience in my country. Of course, it’s a lot of pressure, but in the same way, it’s a lot of support from the Brazilians.
OlympicTalk: We didn’t see much from you in 2012 and 2013. What’s changed the last two years?
Murer: 2012 was a difficult year for me. I had some injuries. I trained and was in good shape during the Olympics, but I had some problems with my technique. I think my technique went down because of this. In 2013, I got good results, didn’t jump very high, but I liked the results. Then, last year, I began to grow again. I put in my mind that this cycle for the Olympics was to grow during the years. So I’m hoping to jump even higher next year.
OlympicTalk: Is the goal for the Olympics to win a gold medal, or any medal?
Murer: Any medal will be OK, because I don’t have one Olympic medal. So I just want a medal. It doesn’t matter the color.