Brazil banking on judokas to boost Rio medal haul
By Tatiana Ramil
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - A considerable part of Brazil's Olympic hopes will rest with its Judo team, whose four medals were the most the nation earned in any sport at the 2012 London Games.
The 14-member team, and in particular the women, are hoping to improve on that mark in Rio de Janeiro and help Brazil end a history of poor medal hauls compared with other large countries.
"Pressure is a positive form of productivity," Ney Wilson, a Brazilian Judo Confederation (CBJ) official, told reporters on Wednesday.
"We say judo is the flagship of Brazilian sport, that's because we're confident in the work we've done and we use this in a positive form, not to pressure the athlete to win but to prepare them to beat their opponents."
The CBJ has spent 20 million reais ($8.7 million) in the last four years on travel alone, money that has come from private patrons, Brazil's Sports Ministry and the Brazilian Olympic Committee.
Brazilian judokas have won 19 Olympic medals, including three gold. They have won a medal in every Olympics since the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
The preparation seems to have paid off. Brazilians have won 12 medals at world championships since 2012, two of them gold - Rafaela Silva in 2013 and Mayra Aguiar in 2014. Aguiar also won bronze at the London Olympics.
"It's natural that I'm considered a medal candidate," said Aguiar. "But I'm aware that nobody wins anything before the competition begins.
"Sure I always have the jitters before an Olympics, it's the most important competition of all, but I'm used to this," she added.
Expectations for the women are particularly high.
"The women have had better results since the last Olympics than the men's team," Wilson added. "Everything points to the women putting up a very good result."
All 14 members of the Brazilian Olympic judo team are in Brazil's armed forces, part of a government programme in which many of the nation's top athletes were enlisted to receive extra support and training.
(Writing by Jeb Blount, editing by Ed Osmond)