By Amy Tennery
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Though lacking the glamour of gymnastics or the stature of athletics, the sport of sprint canoeing on Tuesday provided the proving ground for Brazil's latest Olympic hero.
Isaquias Queiroz dos Santos secured Brazil's first-ever Olympic medal in sprint canoe, taking silver in the men's 1000-metre event.
The 22-year-old battled stroke-for-stroke against defending Olympic champion Sebastian Brendel of Germany in the final metres, as a joyful crowd chanting "Brazil! Brazil! Brazil!" served as his soundtrack.
"I'm happy to have won silver - it tastes a bit like gold because I'm at home and I have trained very hard," he said.
His success is the unlikely punctuation to an early life filled with challenges.
At age three, a pot of boiling water scalded much of his right side, forcing him into a roughly month-long hospital stay. At age five, he was the victim of a brief abduction. At age 10, he lost a kidney after suffering a grisly fall from a tree.
"It really was for me a satisfaction to be able to win this medal after all the obstacles I have faced," said Queiroz dos Santos via a translator at a post-race press conference.
But he was also quick to minimize the impact of this early trauma, aruging that all athletes face challenges, "just like all other professions".
"In short: I had to overcome many obstacles," he said. "But that never affected me and I tried not to let it affect the psychological part."
Queiroz's star rises with a raft of recent Brazilian Olympic heroes.
Thiago da Silva won his home country's first athletics gold of the 2016 Games Monday in the pole vault, toppling French favourite Renaud Lavillenie and locking in an Olympic record to wild applause from his fellow countrymen.
That same day Brazilian gymnast and 2012 gold medallist Arthur Zanetti earned silver in the rings event before a local crowd that could barely contain its cheers and excitement.
Sprint canoe certainly does not attract the attention those two sports do -- not outside of Canada or Eastern Europe, anyway.
But if the scrum of post-race reporters Queiroz dos Santos faced was any indication, he is unlikely to be overlooked by his home country.
"The press was quite something outside," said Queiroz dos Santos. "I had never dealt with this kind of attention from the press in Brazil."
He returns to the water on Wednesday to compete in the men's canoe single 200-metre heat.
(Reporting By Amy Tennery in Rio de Janeiro)