RIO DE JANEIRO — Thiago Braz da Silva’s surprising pole vault victory ensured Brazil’s first gold medal in the Olympic Stadium, sparking euphoric celebrations, AP reports. It also ensured some unpleasant fallout for the hosts.
The heckling was so intense that when Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie prepared for his last attempt to extend his title and potentially bump Brazil to silver, he lost his concentration and gave the thumbs down to the thousands of local fans. He lost his gold too, when he failed at 6.08 meters, allowing Braz da Silva’s 6.03 Olympic record to stand.
The party was on, though not for Lavillenie. “If you get no respect in the Olympics, where can you get respect,” Lavillenie said. “If this is a nation where they only want Brazil and they spit on others, then you should not organize the Olympics.”
In his rawest anger immediately after the 3 ½ hour competition, extended because of rain, he even made a reference to the Berlin 1936 Olympics, the propaganda games of Hitler. He later apologized for that at a news conference.
“I did a big mistake for that. It was my first words,” after competition, he said. “Of course we cannot compare” the two. The 22-year-old Braz da Silva acknowledged he fed off the fervor of the crowd, in the positive sense — the raucous cheers.
“The public helped me alot, was supporting me and that was really important for me at this time in my home to get a medal,” the champion said. Asked what he thought about the relentless booing of the rivals who got in the way of their budding champion, Da Silva said “I understand the people from Brazil.”
“In our country they want the guy from Brazil to win,” he said. “They cannot control emotions, you know.” The competition itself had all the drama needed.
Early on, Lavillenie did all the right things. Wait late to come in and not waste energy, then scale every height at the first attempt to lead throughout. Braz da Silva didn’t wilt, producing an Olympic record vault for the lead.
“Incredible. My first time over six meters,” da Silva said. Yet Lavillenie still had a chance to win. Lavillenie raised the bar to 6.08 for one final attempt and, as he prepared, the crowd started booing him. The Frenchman gave a thumbs-down signal to the boisterous crowd and went up for the last attempt, but failed.
Da Silva was celebrating. The host nation, which had been counting on the female vaulter Fabiana Murer to win gold later in the Olympics, now has a new star. And, like their famous soccer players, the full name doesn’t matter, the champion is known here as Thiago Braz. “I like that,” he said.
For Lavillenie, it was the second shocking defeat of a bad summer. Last month, he lost the European title when he failed to clear his opening height. This one will feel far worse though, since his whole season he had worked for this night.
The loss mattered less than his treatment. “I could never leave Rio with a smile when you get booed for doing your sport,” Lavillenie said.