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Gymnastics in Brazil

Brazilian Confederation of Gymnastics Excellent articles (in Portuguese only) and plenty of photos.


This article was published by Veja Magazine, issue #1848. Although focused mostly on Daiane dos Santos, the article also describes the routine of the Gymnastic in Brazil.
Original text by Joao Gabriel de Lima

Daiane dos Santos takes off the soil, moving backwars. On air, the first movement is to spin the body, and now her eyes are looking in the direction of her movement. She is still moving upwards. When she's close to the highest poing, when her head reaches 2.80 m high - almost as high as the basket of a basketball game - she twists her body in a deadly jump with her body straight, as though there was an axis passing by her belly. On the downwards movements, she repeats the deadly twist. Daiane lands on her feet, with her arms open to gain balance, gesture disguised as a compliment to the audience. The whole movement takes less than one second.
In 76 years of competition - the women's gymnastics has been part of Olympics since 1928 - nobody never risked anything like that. And no other athlete is training such movement for the Olympics in Athens, in August.
Daiane dos Santos is the only gymnast in the world capable of realizing this movement, whose technical designation is "double extended twist". Twist because she starts off backwards, and must twist her body on the air. Double because, both on the way up and on the way down, she spins her body in deadly jumps. And extended because her body remains straighten during the movement - and that is the most difficult point.
During the World Championship of 2003, in the USA, Daiane had already became a unique athletew when she performed a movement highly difficult, but easier than this. That movement was called "double carped twist"; the difference is that, instead of keeping the body straight, the legs are brought towards the body until making a 45 degree angle, which makes the spinning easier. That movement was named "Dos Santos", in tribute to Daiane. The extended twist is still more complicated.
When an athlete performs a new movement for the first time, the movement is named after her. As years go by and the athletes evolve, movements considered difficult may become common. For example, the Korbut - a backward jump executed by Olga Korbut in 1972 which mesmerized spectators in the Olympics of Munich - is today considered to have a level "B" of difficulty (in a scale from "A", easiest, to "E", hardest). The "Dos Santos" is qualified as "Super E", among the most difficult existant movements. The extended "Dos Santos" is even more difficult.

With her movements, Daiane set new standards in the modality. From now on, all athletes will try to reach her level. This puts her shoulder to shoulder with other athletes who set new parameters, like Romenian Nadia Comaneci and Soviets Olga Korbut and Natalia Yurchenko.
Daiane's achievement is even higher, when we remember that she didn't have the same conditions as the other gymnasts. She was born in a lower class family in Porto Alegre, and couldn't engage in trainings at the age of 6, as is the norm in this sport. Daiane could start training only at age 12, when most other high level athletes are already participating in international competitions.
In the beginning, many trainers didn't believe the possibility that that small black girl with uncommon leg power could win in a sport dominated by the european olympic powers. Many suggested that whe gave up and tried other modalities. Daiane didn't listen to them.

The coach of the Brazilian team of Gymnastic is the ucranian Oleg Ostapenko; he is know as the man who taught Daiane to fly. More correct, however, is to say that he is the man who taught Daiane to land.
Daiane always had impressive power in her legs; she is capable to jump 2.40 meters long withoug taking impulse, whereas other gymnasts jump about 2 meters and a sedentary person usually doesn't go past 1 meter. For the deadly jump, she thrusts herself to 2.80 m high, agains 2.0 m of an average athlete. Her problem had always been the landing. "She used to put so much power in the jump that, when landing, she would need two or three extra steps to regain balance, and that costed a few points", says Adriana Alves, the trainer who's been following Daiane since the start of her career.
Because of this deficiency, Daiane didn't participate of the Olympic Games of 2002. Daiane went to Sidney, but as the second back up. Working with Ostapenko, whe learned to control her force and to land standing up. "She improved much, but still has many technical deficiencies, probably because she started late", the ucranian says. According to him, Daiane stands chances in the soil exercizes and in the horse jump, modalities in which leg force is important. On the paralell bars, her performance is just on average, very much far away from Daniela Hypolito and Camila Comin; these are the two most complete Brazilian athletes.

Probably, Daiane wouldn't have gone anywhere if the Brazilian Confederation of Gymnastics hadn't brought to the country the crew of Ukranian coaches which, today, commands the Brazilian team. Oleg Ostapenko is considered one of the most competent coaches in the world. He was responsible for the good results of the Ukranian team in the Olympic Games of Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000. The polivalent Lilia Podkopayeva, champion in Atlanta, was his pupil. In Brazil, he leads his fellow countries Irina Ilyaschenko and Nadiia Ostapenko (his wife), besides the Braziian Ricardo Pereira.
After the arrival of Oleg, in 2001, Brazil decided to maintain the team in permanent training. The best gymnasts would train all at the same place, the Center of Excellence of Olympic Gymnastics, in Curitiba, equiped with all the best equipment. Results came soon. Daniele Hypolito won a silver medal on the soil exercises and was among the top 4 athlete of the World Championship in 2001 - the second most important competition, after the Olympic Games. In 2003, it was Daiane who won the gold medal. Besides lapidating individual talents, Ostapenko also does well collectively. In 2003, the Brazilian team was placed eighth, earning for the first time the right to participate in an Olympic with a full team - six gymnasts.
These results were obtained at coast of much effort. The gymnasts factory, as the Center of Excellence was dubbed, works like a military basis. Seven gymnasts are trained there. Only Daniele Hypolito, of the top eight Brazilian athletes, doesn't train there - she lives in Rio de Janeiro, to stay closer to her family and her coach, Georgette Vidor. Three of the athletes are from Curitiba. They train all day long and, at night, go back to their homes. The other four, foreigners, live in a rented house, right beside the gym. All train an average of seven hours a day, from Monday through Saturday, in rigid schedules. The younger girls don't even leave the site. Instead of going to school, the school goes to them - private tutors teach the subjects of Intermediary course at the premises of the Center. The older ones, like Daiane, go out every night to the college, but they follow a special regime of learning, to avoid conflicts with the trainings. They must be in bed by 11 pm. The athletes can only visit their families in holidays like Christams and Carnival.
Food is balanced - composed mostly of carbohidrates - and controlled. The girls can consume only 900 cals per day, a diet similar to those of spas, and about half of the average of a normal person. The idea is that they should eat only enough to restore the lost energy, without gaining even one gram. "It looks like we are punishing the girls, but nothing is so harmful to a gymnast as weight oscilation. A small variation, of just 500 g, may create immense dificulties in the exercises", says coach Irina Ilyaschenko.

Pain is also common. Some gymnasts have to use anti-inflamatories every night, before sleeping. Contusions are frequent because the impact during exercises is tremendous. It is estimated that Daiane dos Santos has to stand a weight of 600 kg, distributed over her legs and spine, every time she touches the ground. Both knees of Daiane were already put through a surgery.
Yet another obstacle for gymnasts if the natural development of the body. Girls who don't practive sports usually see the first menstruation between 12 and 13 years of age. With gymnasts, this age goes to between 16 and 17, because of the rythm of training and of the low level of body fat - which must be kept under 4%.
For a gymnast, the first menstruation is a problem. The tendency is to gain weight, and, because the shape of the body becomes more curvy, the axes of equilibrium are displaced. Movements which used to be easily performed suddenly become difficult, and many just quit.
This is another advantage of Daiane's. When she started to train, at age 12, she was already a woman. "She is one of the rare cases of gymnastic athletes with large breasts and the curvilineous shaped body of the Brazilian woman", says the coach Adriana Alves. I don't know of any other gymnast who had started to train after the first menstruation and had reached international levels", says Oleg Ostapenko. The index of body fat of Daiane is between 8 and 9 %, above the average in this sport. Of the ideal byotipe of a gymnastic athlete, Daiane only has the low height, 1.45 m.

Daughter of a lower middle class family in Porto Alegre (her father is an employee of Febem, an institution for correction of infractor minors), Daiane earns today around R$ 20,000 per month, between sponsorship and salaries. Her face is starting to be seeked by publicity - recently, she was photoed for a campaign of soft drinks. With the money she saved so far, she bought a house in a middle class neighbourhood of Porto Alegre. She could not, however, enjoy the place, as she has been living in Curitiba for two years.
At her room, there are many photos. Daiane posing at the Chinese Wall, the Greek Acropolis, the bridge of Sydney. She loves photography - that's the career she wants to follow when she quits gymnastics. Differently from most of her fellow athletes, Daiane has a boyfriend. She met the student of Physical Education Ramon Martins da Silva as a child, in Porto Alegre. He fights jiu-jitsu and a few weeks ago, when he disputed a tournament in Curitiba, they spent a day together; "that was the only occasion we met in three months", sighs Daiane.
Daiane likes to shop, specially clothes and jewellry. She drives a small car, and dreams of a bigger one. She loves driving. "This is my moment, I have to enjoy it", says. Aged 21, Daiane is at her apice. At this profession, success may come fast, but the summit also passes by very quickly. Daiane enjoys her moment the most - she knows that, today, nobody in the world can do what she does.

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