Andrade eager for Olympic gymnastics showdown with Biles

American withdrew from several events including vault final to focus on mental health

AFP May 07, 2024


As Rebeca Andrade prepares to defend the Olympic vault gold she took in Tokyo after Simone Biles dramatically withdrew, she told AFP she hopes that in Paris the American is at "her best".

In Tokyo, Biles topped vault qualifying but then suffered an attack of 'the twisties' on the same apparatus in the team event.

After losing her sense of spatial awareness, Biles withdrew from several events, including the vault final, to focus on her mental health.

In Biles' absence, Andrade won the gold. She then took the vault gold at the world championships in 2021 and the all-round gold in 2022.

Biles returned with a bang at the World Championships in Antwerp last autumn, winning four golds and a silver. Andrade took three silvers, second to Biles each time, but beat the American to gold in the vault.

Andrade said she is looking forward to the duel in Paris, saying gold medals are not her focus.

"It's about doing my best," she said. "And I hope she (Biles) does too, that she does her best, because it's an honour to be able to compete alongside her."

Andrade was the first Brazilian woman to win a gymnastics gold.

She "is Biles' main opponent today, it's normal that the spotlight is on her," Ney Wilson of the Brazilian Olympic Committee told AFP, adding that they were paying attention to the psychological health of their biggest gymnastics star after what happened to the American in Tokyo.

"We are monitoring her closely, particularly her mental preparation. She is well prepared, she does not feel any additional pressure despite her status," Wilson added.

Andrade said that focusing on performance rather than results meant "I can control my head a lot."

In the women's all round event in Antwerp, American Shilese Jones was third behind Biles and Andrade: the first time at a major gymnastics championship that three black women had stood on the podium.

"Representation, right?" Andrade said. "We are seeing a lot more black athletes and being able to represent and encourage so many children and young people who previously thought they couldn't dream but today can not only dream but can believe that it is possible."

At the age of five, Andrade, who turns 25 on Wednesday, went to a gym in her home city of Guarulhos, near Sao Paulo.

"I remember that she was already muscular, with a lot of strength in her little arms and legs," said coach Monica Barroso dos Anjos.

Two years earlier Daiane Dos Santos had won Brazil's first woman gymnastics world champion, in the floor excercise.

"I asked her to do a cartwheel, then some jumps," continues Barroso dos Anjos.

"Then I told my colleague and said 'we have the new Daiane Dos Santos'."

Like Dos Santos, Andrade is Afro-Brazilian and comes from a poor background.

Andrade and her seven brothers and sisters were raised by a single mother, Rosa Santos, who worked as a house cleaner.

Her aunt, Cida, was a cook at the Bonifacio de Cardoso gymnasium. But little Rebeca did not have enough money to get there by bus.

Her brother Emerson would wait after training to escort little Rebeca on the long walk home.

"I didn't want to lose this precious stone that had to be cut here," said Barroso dos Anjos, who has Andrade's silhouette tattooed on her back.

"She couldn't sit still," said Barroso dos Anjos. "If we put music on, she would start dancing or imitating the movements of the older girls."

At the age of 10, she moved to Rio to work with coach Junior Fagundes.

"Everything about her was above average, the acrobatics, the body awareness, the mastery of spins," he said.

She made her international debut at 13, but knee injuries forced her to undergo three operations between 2015 and 2019.

Her resilience paid off in Tokyo.

Back at the Guarulhos gym, registration exploded after those exploits.

A large fresco of Andrade decorates the wall of the room where dozens of little girls dream of emulating the local heroine.

"It makes me a little nervous to think that she trained here before, but it also inspires me," said nine-year-old Estela Leal Camargo.

"I wish I had the confidence she had when she walked into this gym."


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