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Surfing world champion Gabriel Medina’s birthday bond with Neymar

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Of Brazilian Gabriel Medina‘s 7.7 million Instagram followers, most began tracking him after his first world surf tour win at age 17, his first world title at 20 or his second crown last year at 24.

But not Neymar. The soccer icon with 113 million followers got in on the ground floor. On Medina’s 14th or 15th birthday, to be more precise.

At the time, either in 2007 or 2008, Neymar was already big in Brazil, though he didn’t start playing professionally until 2009 and didn’t move from Brazil’s domestic league to the titans of Europe until 2013.

“My manager told [Neymar] I wanted to meet him, and then he pretty much organized it,” Medina said in December. “I met [Neymar] first time at his house in Santos.”

Medina, who lived a 90-minute drive from Santos in Sao Paulo, celebrated his birthday by presenting a gift to his fellow precocious athlete, a surfboard.

The two since palled around Brazil and Europe, playing Counter-Strike and poker and hanging at Carnival and on cruises, Medina said. In 2014, Neymar promoted on his social media a live broadcast of Medina’s competition as he tried to become South America’s first world champion in surfing, which makes its Olympic debut in 2020.

Neymar, whose lone sibling is a younger sister, calls Medina his brother. He attended a World Surf League contest in Portugal in October.

“Really good friend outside of the beach and inside of the beach and in the soccer fields,” Medina said. “He put a lot of work and is one of the best. It’s good to have a friend like that.”

Medina was in Rio for the start of the Olympics, a few weeks after he became the first surfer to land a backflip in a contest. But he had to leave before Neymar penned the moment of the Games, slotting the shootout winner to deliver Brazil its first Olympic soccer title.

Two months later, Medina’s stepfather and coach, known in Brazil as Charlão, was involved in an unspecified incident involving World Surf League officials.

He was suspended for six months. Medina struggled early in the 2017 season, rebounded to win the ninth and 10th events but lost in the quarterfinals of the Billabong Pipe Masters finale, ending his comeback bid and allowing American John John Florence to clinch a repeat title.

Medina said his climb back in 2018 to his first world title in four years was more difficult than earning that maiden crown, when he became the youngest male world champ since Kelly Slater won the first of his record 11 titles in 1992. Medina, whose favorite tattoo is a family crest inside his upper arm, mentioned dealing with his dad’s situation.

“When you win the first one you kind of get in a comfortable zone, you know?” he said. “That’s why I think the second is harder. You have to put a lot of work, even more than the first one.”

Brazil had its most successful Olympics ever in Rio, unsurprisingly, with national records of seven gold medals and 19 total medals. It finished 13th in the medal standings, also a best. Those numbers are expected to descend without a home-field advantage in Tokyo. The addition of surfing should be a boost, though Medina is not guaranteed one of two Brazilian spots at the Games. Three of the top four men in last season’s world tour standings were from Brazil.

Which led Medina to proclaim that surfing has passed volleyball as Brazil’s second-most popular sport.

“Of course,” Medina said, “soccer is No. 1.”

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Simone Biles leads Olympians in Time 100

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Simone BilesLeBron James and Neymar made this year’s Time 100 Most Influential list unveiled Thursday.

Other sports names to make this year’s list include NFL quarterbacks Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick, UFC champion Conor McGregor and Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.

Biles, who won four gymnastics gold medals in Rio, is one of the youngest people on the list at age 20. The youngest is Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old LGBT rights activist.

Leslie Jones of “Saturday Night Live,” who was an NBC Olympics correspondent in Rio, penned a short essay on Biles for the magazine.

“What struck me when I first saw Simone in Rio was how perfect she was at everything,” Jones wrote. “That girl was born to do what she does.”

Biles was previously the youngest of 11 finalists for Time’s Person of the Year for 2016. She is currently competing on “Dancing with the Stars” as she takes all of 2017 off from gymnastics competition.

James, a two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist who skipped Rio, previously made Time 100 in 2013.

Neymar, who led Brazil to its first Olympic soccer title in Rio, is on the list for the first time.

“The pressure on him in Brazil at the 2014 World Cup and at last year’s Rio Olympics was likely immense as he carried the hopes of a nation,” David Beckham wrote. “But you would not have known it. He lives to play the game, and I imagine he approaches it now the same way he did as a boy.”

Here are Olympians and Paralympians on past Time 100 lists, counting only athletes who had competed in the Games before being listed:

2016 — Usain BoltCaitlyn JennerKatie LedeckySania MirzaRonda Rousey
2015 — Abby Wambach
2014 — Cristiano Ronaldo, Serena Williams
2013 — LeBron James, Li Na, Lindsey Vonn
2012 — Novak DjokovicLionel MessiOscar Pistorius
2011 — Lionel Messi
2010 — Yuna KimSerena Williams
2009 — Rafael Nadal
2008 — Andre Agassi, Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius
2007 — Roger FedererChien Ming-Wang
2006 — Joey Cheek, Steve Nash
2005 — LeBron James
2004 — Lance Armstrong, Paula Radcliffe, Yao Ming
2000 (20th Century) — Muhammad Ali

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VIDEO: Biles details first tattoo, gets pranked on ‘Ellen’

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Neymar: Rio Olympic shootout was most nervous moment of my life

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Brazil soccer star Neymar says taking the last penalty of the shootout against Germany in the final at the Olympics was the most nervous moment of his life.

Neymar converted the kick to give Brazil its first Olympic soccer title, winning 5-4 on penalties after the match ended 1-1 after extra time on Aug. 20.

The Barcelona striker was back at the Maracana for a charity game organized by former great Zico. Looking at the goalmouth where he scored the Olympic decider, Neymar recalled his key role in the penalty showdown.

“I am remembering that walk to it. It was the most nervous moment of my life. I couldn’t think of anything but ‘For the love of God, where will I kick this ball?” the 24-year old striker said Wednesday night. “Then God gave me the capacity to be calm and score that goal.”

Brazil had long sought Olympic gold as the only soccer title it didn’t have. Neymar carried Brazil to the final in the 2012 London Olympics, but lost to Mexico.

Gold in Rio was seen by many fans as a rebirth of Brazilian soccer after the 7-1 humiliation against Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals.

After the final, Brazil’s national team managed to rise from sixth to first in the South American World Cup qualifiers. Only one more win should take the team of new coach Tite to the 2018 Russia World Cup.

Neymar scored two goals for Zico’s team in Wednesday’s match which raised money for relatives of victims of the air crash last month that killed 19 players from Brazilian club Chapecoense.

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