Rio 2016: Brazil's golden girl Silva motivated by Neymar message


Rafaela Silva, Brazil's first gold medallist at Rio 2016, revealed a message of encouragement from football star Neymar helped convince her to remain in judo following her exit at London 2012.

Silva suffered defeat in the second round at the Games four years ago and considered quitting after her ninth-placed finish was met with criticism on social media.

However, a message from Neymar, who himself has been given a rough ride from the Brazilian public during their lacklustre campaign in Rio, helped provide her with motivation to continue.

It proved worthwhile as Silva took gold in the women's under-57kg event in Rio, and she believes Brazil's athletes require greater support from the public.

"It was very difficult. I was 19 in my first Olympics and I wanted to have dreams. I thought about stopping judo because I didn't want to have that feeling [of receiving abuse] any more," said Silva.

"[But] when I lost the Olympic Games I had a message from Neymar and other legends and they said that I should not give up.

"[That's why] I think people have to support the Brazilian athletes, even when they are losing, because they give their life to their sport."

Silva grew up in the notorious City of God favela in Rio, and believes her story shows the Games can be a positive force for social change.

It is a legacy she hopes to help build upon when she returns to her community an Olympic champion.

"Judo changed my life. I had no dream, no objective. The only dream I had was to have a bicycle and some cool clothes. Through judo I always give the maximum effort because I know that I can help my family," she said.

"I was out in the community all this year. There's a lot of people criticising the Games but I believe to see the athletes achieve their dream, this is the spirit of judo, the spirit of sport.

"The Olympics can fill people's hearts, and inspire other medallists from other low-income communities.

"I leave the athletes village on the 13th and I intend to go back. The small kids ask at my aunt's house when I'm coming back.

"I want to go back to my community and be received the way I have been received on the streets, to inspire kids, not only to be athletes but to go to university and have dreams."