IMPACT

Athlete From Rio Slum Just Won Brazil’s First Gold Medal In Rio

“This is more than just a medal, it’s a victory for poor people. It’s hope for all of them.”

This Olympian defeated the odds in more than just sports.

Rafaela Silva, raised in the notorious Rio slum of Cidade de Deus, just won a gold medal in women’s judo on Monday, according to the Washington Post.

Silva won Brazil’s first gold medal of the 2016 Games, taking the title for the 57-kilogram division of women’s judo.

In a video interview with Brazil’s SporTV, the athlete could not hold back her tears after she won gold.

“If it wasn’t for judo, I don’t know where I’d be now,” Silva said, according to a HuffPost translation. “I could still be playing in City of God, but thanks to God, I got involved in sports ― and here I am, world champion and Olympic champion.”

Silva, 25, spent the first eight years of her life living in Rio de Janeiro’s Cidade de Deus favela, according to Sports Illustrated. The area gained fame thanks to the 2002 film, “City of God.” 

“Everybody here knows Rafaela’s history,” Eduardo Colli, a Brazilian fan, told the Associated Press. “This is more than just a medal, it’s a victory for poor people. It’s hope for all of them.”

As a kid, Silva got into fights with boys and got expelled from school, according to Sports Illustrated. She turned to judo at age 5, when her parents enrolled her in Instituto Reação, a sports nonprofit that now serves about 1,250 athletes in five Rio favelas.

At 16, Silva won a world junior title, and three years later she won a silver medal at the 2011 world championships, according to Sports Illustrated.

But Silva’s path to Olympic stardom was halted in London, after she was favored to win a medal, but lost at the 2012 Games. She was then overwhelmed with racist abuse on social media, according to CBC.

“I was very sad because I had lost the fight,” Silva told the news outlet. “I walked to my room, I found all those insults on social media ― they were criticizing me, calling me monkey. So I got really, really upset. I thought about leaving judo.”

After battling depression, according to the Washington Post, Silva got back in the game, and went on to become the 2013 world champion.

And today the only thing anyone can rightfully call her is an Olympic gold medalist.

“The monkey that they said had to be locked up in a cage in London is today an Olympic champion at home,” Silva told the Associated Press

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story referred to Cidade de Deus as Rio’s largest slum. The largest slum in Rio is Rocinha.

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