Brazilians celebrated in the stands after local hero Rafaela Silva won gold in women’s judo at the Rio Games on Monday, claiming the first Olympic gold medal for the host country and capping a journey to the podium that began in one of the city’s most notorious slums.
Silva raised her arms in triumph as she overcame top seed Sumiya Dorjsuren of Mongolia on a waza-ari, following a pulsating semi-finals victory that went into extra time against Romania’s Corina Caprioriu.
The Carioca Arena 2 was rocking as her supporters went into a frenzy each time she took the tatami, stomping their feet and chanting “Rafa” as tossed aside one competitor after another.
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Gold for Silva marks a fairytale ascent to the Olympic podium from a childhood in Rio’s Cidade de Deus favela, made famous in the film “City of God.”
Silva proudly held up her medal for the crowd at the winners’ ceremony, earning a huge roar of approval.
“It’s amazing. We’re a country that’s had some problems. So it makes us so happy to see our flag up high,” said Gustavo Lima, a 42-year-old IT worker who was posing for a photo with his young son and cousin.
Following early years of trouble that saw her getting into fights in her neighbourhood, Silva found structure to her life through judo and went on to attend the Instituto Reacao, founded by Olympic bronze medallist Flavio Canto.
The women’s -57kg was among the toughest judo categories at Rio, featuring all four medal winners from the London Games, and there were several notable upsets.
Japan’s Kaori Matsumoto, world champion and London gold medallist, was stunned in the semi-finals and went on to settle for bronze.
France’s judo medal drought in Rio continued as London bronze winner Automne Pavia lost in the bronze medal match, while another London bronze medallist, Marti Malloy of the United States, suffered a shock early exit in the round of 16.