Not just soccer in Brazil: Other Olympic medals matter, too

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Posted: Aug 12, 2016 1:12 AM
Not just soccer in Brazil: Other Olympic medals matter, too

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Winning a gold medal in soccer, and not worrying about anything else, is no longer good enough in Brazil with the country holding the Olympics.

The country wants to win as many events as it can and finish in the top 10 in the number of overall medals won.

A tall order for a country with little Olympic history like Brazil — but something the host nation thinks is attainable.

"Of course, soccer is a passion in Brazil," Adriana Bahar, the sports planning general manager for the BOC, told The Associated Press. "But now we want to focus on the 41 other disciplines in the Olympics."

Countries always get a "medal bounce" as the Olympic host. China got one in Beijing, Britain in London, and now it's Brazil's turn to rise.

Brazil has won three medals through six full days of competition. That's one short of what Michael Phelps has claimed on his own, but still a source of pride for the country.

Rafaela Silva won gold in judo, Felipe Wu took silver in shooting and Mayra Aguiar has bronze in judo.

Despite the early success, the Rio de Janeiro Olympics have yet to catch on across the sprawling metropolitan area of 12 million.

Stadiums for basketball and judo have been full. But many venues have been lightly attended, particularly in sports unfamiliar to Brazilians. The opening day of golf appeared to have more rules officials in the gallery than fans.

This could change if Brazil starts winning medals to generate a groundswell of interest — even in the city's impoverished favelas, which are distant from most of the venues, and economically even farther away.

"It's always good for a home nation to win medals," International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said. "It's always goes down well. We hope they do, but the competition doesn't always go how you might hope it would."

Soccer defines Brazil, particularly when it comes to the World Cup. But soccer matters less in the Olympics, where Brazil has never won gold.

"It's more important to win a lot of medals than simply one gold medal in soccer," Brazilian fan Anderson Silveira said, cheering at tennis match on Thursday at the Olympic Park. "I'd give up a soccer gold medal for doing well and showing we are good in many things."

Bahar declined to guess how many medals it will take to finish in the top 10. A good guess is 25, which is 50 percent more than Brazil won in London.

As Brazil's ambitions have swollen, so has its team with 465 members this time — almost twice as many as London and Beijing. This is partly because as the host nation, Brazil qualifies automatically for most events. It's also hired 56 foreign coaches to handle the crunch.

Brazil has usually done well in volleyball, beach volleyball, judo and sailing. It's picked up a few medals in swimming, track and field, and equestrian events. The idea is to contend in more — handball, gymnastics, boxing, tennis, canoe sprint and archery.

"We're working to win medals in places we haven't before, and then hold what we have," Bahar said. "This is a serious moment for everyone. It's a unique moment, but we hope it's not the end. We hope it's just one milestone as we establish ourselves."

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Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP .His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/stephen-wade