Football superstar Neymar will lead Brazil’s charge for gold medals at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics as the country seeks to forget its political and economic blues.
The country of 200 million people faces a nervous 100-day countdown to the start of the Games where it is counting on winning about 30 medals. That would put it in the top 10 sporting powers for the first Olympics to be held in South America.
The Olympic torch set off Thursday from Athens on a circuitous tour through Greece, eventually winding through scores of Brazilian cities before arriving at Rio’s Maracana Stadium for the August 5 opening ceremony.
Brazil won a record 17 medals at the 2012 London Olympics. The same year, the government launched Operation Brazil Medals, putting about one billion reals ($280 million/250 million euros) into training facilities for potential Olympic winners.
“In the past three years, Brazil has taken first place in 15 world events, which is part of our plan,” Marcus Vinicius Freire, executive director of sport for the Brazilian Olympic Committee, told AFP.
Brazil, the most successful football nation, has never won the men’s Olympic soccer gold. They lost to Mexico in the 2012 final. But it has negotiated a deal with Barcelona so that Neymar will play in the Olympics but be rested for the Copa America Centennial in the United States in June.
Brazil’s women have also never won an Olympic or world title and led by the legendary Marta, now 30 and in probably her last bid for glory, hope this is their turn.