Brazil

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Brazil sets Olympic bubble in Portugal due to pandemic at home

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SAO PAULO — Brazil has set up its Olympic training camp in Rio … Rio Maior that is, a relatively small Portuguese city of 21,000 residents outside Lisbon.

Brazil’s Olympic committee feared its team would lag before the Tokyo Games next year after months of inactivity at home. So since mid-July, 72 high-performance swimmers, judokas, boxers and gymnasts have been training at the Rio Maior Sports Center to try to catch up to rivals who started earlier.

Altogether, the camp involves more than 100 Brazilians, all of whom had to test negative for the coronavirus before leaving home, and on arriving in Portugal. It was timed so they could get started last Thursday, exactly one year out from the Olympics.

The camp will eventually feature more than 200 Brazilian athletes and staffers in 16 sports until December.

There is no Copacabana Beach or Sugar Leaf Mountain but, more importantly, this Rio is free of COVID-19.

Rio’s 2016 Olympics infrastructure is mostly closed, with only a handful of athletes able to work out for the Tokyo Games. Even if training facilities were to reopen soon, the athletes fear they would quickly close again due to Brazil’s poor efforts to contain the virus.

Brazil has officially recorded nearly 90,000 deaths and more than 2.4 million cases, second only to the United States.

Rio Maior, a quiet city 46 miles north of the Portuguese capital, has zero cases.

“Rio Maior gives us a bubble,” Marco La Porta, deputy chairman of Brazil’s Olympic Committee, says.

“All workers at the sports center live in the city. And that gives the athletes a very big assurance. In Brazil, they just don’t know who has had some contact with the coronavirus. We are trying to close a gap.”

They expect Rio’s facilities to be safe to use by the end of the year. In the meantime, 120 more Brazilian Olympians will arrive in Portugal over the next few months to train in track and field, wrestling, diving, taekwondo, triathlon, sailing, handball, rugby and table tennis.

They are all receiving special permission to enter the country with help from Portugal’s Olympic Committee, their presence excused as performing professional activities. Tourists from Brazil are barred from entering the European Union because of their trouble with the coronavirus.

Brazilian Olympians discovered Rio Maior 10 years ago, preparing for other events. There are ongoing negotiations for it to become the team’s base ahead of the Paris Olympics in 2024. The experience during the coronavirus pandemic makes the deal nearly certain, La Porta says.

Rio Maior includes an aquatic park with two pools, a diving platform, an athletics stadium, a multi-use gymnasium, tennis courts and a soccer pitch.

Also being used are venues in the cities of Coimbra (judo), Cascais (sailing) and Sangalhos (gymnastics).

The camp will cost Brazil’s Olympic body $3 million that was marked for other international trips before the Tokyo Games. Each athlete costs $70 per day in Rio Maior, covering accommodation, five meals a day, training facilities, laundry, and transportation.

Athletes must wear face masks all day except when they are training, running or at the gym. Their buffet meals come at different times for each sport to avoid crowding in the restaurant. Every interaction outside training is guided by social distancing recommendations.

Synchronized swimmer Laura Micucci says she spent months without training with her teammates and was relieved when they gathered in the camp last week.

“It is still strange to wear a mask and use hand sanitizers all the time,” Micucci says, “but we can feel a little taste of competition again.”

MORE: Original drawing of Olympic Rings sells for more than $200,000

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Who is Brazil’s greatest Olympian?

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Brazil’s two major sports are soccer and volleyball (indoor and beach), but no soccer players make this list. It’s because most male soccer players only play one Olympics (Neymar being an exception), and the Brazilian women (who have a legend in Marta) haven’t won an Olympic title. Brazil has others to choose from who earned medals at multiple Olympics … 

Escadinha
Volleyball
Four Olympic Medals

Sergio Santos is known as Serginho or Escadinha, the latter translating to stepladder. The libero shares the record for most Olympic volleyball medals. Escadinha reached the final of every Olympic tournament he played, the last in Rio at age 40. He grew up in a favela on the outskirts of Sao Paulo. It was thought his national team career was over after the 2012 London Games, but longtime Brazilian coach Bernardinho called him back in 2015 for one more run. Wise move. Escadinha was named tournament MVP, leading Brazil to home gold. After the Olympics, Escadinha’s farewell match with the national team drew 35,000 people.

Fabi/Sheilla
Volleyball
Two Olympic Gold Medals

Brazil’s greatest female Olympian has to be an indoor volleyball player from gold-medal teams in 2008 and 2012. No other Brazilian women own multiple golds. Six women made both of those Olympic volleyball teams. Of those, Fabi and Sheilla had the most acclaim. Fabi was the best libero at the Beijing Games. She later earned best digger and best receiver honors in other major international competitions. Sheilla, an opposite and Brazil’s top scorer at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, rejoined the national team last year after a retirement. Another medal in Tokyo could vault her ahead of Fabi.

Torben Grael
Sailing
Five Olympic Medals

Competed in every Olympics from 1984-2004, making the podium in five of his six appearances. Grael memorably lost gold in 1988 due to a broken mast in the final two-person Star race. His gold medals came in 1996 and 2004, the last one at age 44, both with Marcelo Ferreira. Grael became the first sailor to earn five Olympic medals, a record later tied by Brit Ben Ainslie and countryman Robert Scheidt. Grael and Scheidt were due to face off in Brazil’s Olympic Trials in 2008 before Grael withdrew.

Ricardo/Emanuel
Beach Volleyball
Three Olympic Medals each

The only Olympic men’s beach volleyball team to win multiple medals. Ricardo and Emanuel earned gold in 2004 and bronze in 2008. Each legend also earned a silver medal with a different partner at other Games. Together, they own the international men’s beach volleyball record book. Emanuel grew up so skinny that he didn’t play soccer and had to transition out of indoor volleyball. Even when he started playing professionally on the beach, he was called “Bones.” Ricardo was a converted soccer goalie. Ricardo and Emanuel broke up in the London Olympic cycle because Emanuel wanted to move from Joao Pessoa to live in Rio full-time with his wife.

Robert Scheidt
Sailing
Five Olympic Medals

Extended Brazil’s sailing dominance after Grael bowed out of Olympic competition before the Beijing Games. Scheidt, like Grael, earned medals in five of his six Olympics. Scheidt, like Grael, earned golds in 1996 and 2004 (Laser class, not Star). In Rio, Scheidt placed fourth in a bid to break his tie with Grael and Ainslie for the Olympic sailing medals record. A U.S. Olympic coach once called Scheidt, “the Michael Jordan of sailing.” His world championships record — golds spanning 1995 to 2013 — betters Grael’s. Scheidt is still competing at age 47 — after a reported retirement in 2017.

BEST OLYMPIANS: Canada | China | Germany | Italy | Japan

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Marcio, retired Brazil beach volleyball star, fights coronavirus in hospital

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Marcio Araujo, a retired Brazilian beach volleyball star, has been hospitalized with the coronavirus and said his life was in danger over the weekend, according to Globo.

Marcio, a 2008 Olympic silver medalist and 2005 World champion, posted an image on Instagram Saturday holding a sign that read, in Portuguese, I will recover if God wants, while wearing a mask over the nose and mouth.

He reportedly said Saturday that he returned from a hospital because there was no ICU bed available for him in his native Fortaleza. On Monday, he posted an image of a man in a hospital bed wearing a mask. The caption read that he was readmitted to a hospital with a lack of oxygen.

Marcio, now 46, teamed with Fabio Luiz Magalhaes for that 2005 World title and 2008 Olympic silver medal, falling to Americans Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers in a three-set final in Beijing.

Marcio, who became a father before his first Olympics in 2004, and the 6-foot-8 Fabio, nicknamed “Jaws,” were the second-ranked team in the world for most of the Beijing Olympic cycle.

Marcio later paired with legend Ricardo and earned a 2011 World silver medal, after which they split. Ricardo went to the 2012 Olympics with his new partner. Marcio did not make it to the London Games and wound down his career.