Rebecca Andrade, Flavia Saraiva and the Brazilian women’s gymnastics team should have been the feel-good story at the world championships this week. They still might be, but some of that promise has been replaced by qualifying pain.
Sarajevo, whose Tokyo Olympics were marred by ankle problems, suffered another ankle injury in Liverpool, England, on Sunday while being treated after a jump. She finished qualifying with a watered-down pole vault, then was in the boot in the media mixed area, according to Olympics.com.
She was receiving medical attention Monday afternoon in Liverpool, according to the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation. Her status for Tuesday night’s team final (Peacock, 2:15 p.m. ET) is unknown, although she is listed to compete on all four apparatus.
Brazil placed third in the team final behind the USA and Great Britain, the silver and bronze medalists from the Tokyo Games. Scores are reset for the final. Russian gymnasts who took Olympic gold are banned from these worlds because of the war in Ukraine.
More than 300 teams of gymnasts have won Olympic or World Championship medals all time. But in nearly 120 years of global competition, the United States is the only nation in the Western Hemisphere to place on either the men’s or women’s team podium.
Brazil’s women, who had not won an Olympic medal in gymnastics until last year and failed to qualify a full team for the Tokyo Games, could change that. They were a revelation after the lowest program to miss the Olympic team event.
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In July, Brazil defeated an American B team at the Pan American Championships in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil’s roster was the same as the top five at the World Cup this week. He relied heavily on Andrade and Saraiva (for seven of the 12 matches in the final). The U.S. Pan Ams team included one woman who later made its world championship team (Sky Blakely), but none of his best all-rounders, who are in worlds (Shiles Jones, Jade Carey, Jordan Chiles). Still, Brazil’s emphatic victory (with 1,999 points) reverberated.
“The Pan Am title validated their work,” said Marcos Guerra, a producer for Brazilian broadcaster Globo. “The girls saw that they had a real chance to win a team medal [at worlds] for the first time.”
Andrade, the Olympic all-around silver medalist, and Saraiva, precocious talents tempered by past injury setbacks, were expected to again carry the five-woman team in Tuesday’s team final.
In the qualifiers, four gymnasts from each team of five were selected for each of the four apparatuses, with the best three scores counting for a total of 12. Andrade and Saraiva were used on each apparatus. All eight of their points were counted. Andrade is well known for her individual Olympic success and she is favored to win Brazil’s first world all-around title on Thursday.
If Andrade is on the team Marthathen it’s Sarajevo Christian. Had Sarajevo’s results been replaced by the fourth-placed Brazilian on each device, Brazil would not have qualified for the eight-team final.
Andrade and Saraiva, born four months apart in 1999, have trained together in Rio for most of the past decade, said Gabriel GentileBrazilian sports journalist.
“We’ve been a family since childhood,” Saraiva said this summer not only of Andrade but of a larger group of gymnasts on the national team, according to the International Gymnastics Federation, as cited by Olympics.com. “I live with them. I spend more time with them than with my own family.”
Andrade was born outside São Paulo, where she and seven siblings were raised by their mother, a cleaner, before leaving home for gymnastics at age 8.
A youth Pan American all-around champion at 13, she was then plagued by injuries. A broken big toe took her out of the Youth Olympics in 2014. Three separate right ACL tears ruled her out of the world championships in 2015, 2017 and 2019. She still managed to compete at the 2016 Rio Games and became known as Rebeyoncé at home after performing Beyoncé music on floor exercises.
Healthy in Tokyo, Andrade became the first Brazilian gymnast to win an Olympic medal with her all-around silver medal Sunny Lee. It would have been gold if she hadn’t gone out of bounds twice in the closing routine. Three days later, Andrade won Brazil’s first Olympic gold medal in gymnastics, doing so on vault.
“This medal is not just mine, it’s for everyone who knows my story, everything I’ve been through,” Andrade, who has four million followers between Instagram and TikTok, reportedly said in Tokyo.
Saraiva was listed at 4 feet, 5 inches when she made her Olympic debut in Rio at age 16 as a medal contender on beam (she finished fifth). Carioca, she developed into one of the sports programs for low-income children sponsored by the Rio government.
“Flavinia”, or little Flavia, missed the 2017 World Cup after injuring her back. She had individual finishes of fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth at worlds between 2018 and 2019, setting her up to win Brazil’s first Olympic medal in women’s gymnastics in Tokyo.
But an ankle injury in Olympic qualifying ruled her out of the all-around. Instead, she celebrated Andrade’s silver. She returned on the final day of competition and was seventh on beam before undergoing surgery later that month.
“We keep fighting,” Saraiva wrote in Portuguese on Instagram after last year’s ankle injury.
NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.
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