UNSURPRISINGLY, BRAZIL HAS assembled its largest Olympics team, with 462 athletes — 209 women and 253 men — to compete in the nation’s first Games as hosts.
Brazil has traditionally secured most of its medals through the likes of volleyball, judo, athletics and sailing but they have widened their horizons this year in attempt to secure their greatest Olympic medal haul.
They are targeting a top-10 finish on the medal table and have also stated a loftier goal of doubling their medal tally of 17 from London four years ago.
The Olympics invariably produce a number of home-town hero stories, so we’ve taken a closer look at who the hosts will be banking on to claim glory for the nation.
There is great excitement about the men’s and women’s volleyball teams, so much so that the tickets are among the most expensive at the Games.
The men won gold in 2004 and silver in 2008 and 2012 and are comfortably the highest-ranked team in the world at the moment, ahead of Poland and Russia.
The women’s team are two-time reigning Olympic champs, although they are currently ranked second in the world, behind the US.
2) Beach volleyball
For many, the words Brazil and Olympics automatically prompt thoughts of beach volleyball. Whether it’s on court or on the sand, the Brazilians love a bit of volleyball.
The men’s pair of Alison Cerutti and Bruno Oscar Schmidt topped the Olympic qualifying rankings, a feat that was matched by Larissa Franca Maestrini and and Talita Da Rocha Antunes. Just behind them was another Brazilian pair, Agatha Bednarcuk and Barbara Seixas de Freitas.
Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze were crowned 49er FX world champions in 2014. They were fifth in this year’s world championships but big things are expected of the world’s top-ranked female 49er FX pair in Rio.
Someone else to watch out for is 43-year-old Robert Scheidt who is competing in his sixth successive Olympic Games. Rio’s sailing conditions are notoriously tricky so having 25 years of experience in these waters will surely benefit the man who has bagged medals in the last five Olympics: Laser gold, 1996; Laser silver, 2000; Laser gold, 2004; Star silver, 2008; Star bronze, 2012.
They may have won more Fifa World Cups than anyone else but Brazil’s male footballers are yet to claim Olympic gold.
That is being tipped to change this summer with 24-year-old Barcelona star Neymar leading the men’s side as one of their three over-23 players, alongside defender Renato Augusto (28) and 38-year-old goalkeeper Fernando Orass.
The Brazilian men have claimed medals in football on five occasions (silver three times and bronze twice), most recently when going down to Mexico in the final four years ago. They began their campaign with a scoreless draw against South Africa on Thursday, and will have to improve against Iraq and Denmark.
Marta, one of the best female players of all time, leads the challenge of the Brazilian women who have twice won silver at the Olympics but who are also yet to stand atop the podium.
Brazil brought four judo medals home from in London 2012, one gold and three bronze. And big things will be expected once again of Sarah Menezes (above) as she aims to defend the 48kg title she won four years ago.
Mayra Aguiar (78kg) was also a 2014 world champion and bronze medallist four years ago.
Marcus Vinicius D’Almeida is called the ‘Neymar of Archery’ for good reason. The 18-year-old has taken the sport by storm ever since he finished second, by one arrow, in an archery World Cup final at the age of 16.
As a result he is seen as one of the nation’s top medal hopes in Rio despite his tender years.
Sao Paolo native Arthur Zanetti made history four years ago when he won gold on the rings. It was the first Olympic medal for Brazil in gymnastics, never mind the colour.
Understandably, there is now great excitement to see what he can do on home turf.
While his Olympic medal strike-rate is far from prolific, Thiago Pereira is considered to be one of Brazil’s greatest swimmers.
Pereira’s sole Olympic medal came in the 400m individual medley in London, where he won silver ahead of Michael Phelps.
This will be Pereria’s fourth Games and he has spent most of his professional life competing against some of the greats in his sport, the likes of Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
Periera has won 15 golds in four Pan American Games and 23 medals in total, a tally matched by no one else.
While it is not traditionally a sport that Brazil excels at, the women’s team are certainly on the rise, and caught national attention when they won the world championships in 2013.
10) Pole vault
If Fabiana Murer can get herself on the podium in Rio, you can be certain that she will be a very popular medallist.
Murer has disappointed in her previous two Olympics (Beijing 2008 and London 2012) despite showing career-best form leading up to the Games on both occasions.
In early July of this year she recorded a new PB of 4.87m, so she seems to be peaking at the right time once again.
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