Sun, Jul 24, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Rio Olympics: Brazil looks abroad to fill spots

OLYMPIC TRADITION:The host nation has recruited athletes, some with tenous links to the South American country, to represent it in events such as field hockey and golf

AP, SAO PAULO, Brazil

Rugby player Isadora Cerullo never lived in Brazil. Fencer Ghislain Perrier speaks very little Portuguese. Golfer Miriam Nagl played abroad most of her life.

They will still be parading under the host nation’s flag at the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Games come Aug. 5.

Cerullo, Perrier and Nagl are among several athletes who will be fulfilling their Olympic dream because of Brazil’s shortage of athletes in sports it automatically qualified for as host.

Without an Olympic tradition to fall back on, the country was left to rapidly recruit an international band of athletes for events such as field hockey, golf, rowing, wrestling and rugby.

Their ties, in many cases, are weak. Some have lived away for most of their lives, but were born in Brazil. Some were born abroad, but have Brazilian parents or grandparents. Some had almost no links to the country, but were hired by local federations and became naturalized.

“I would have very slim chances of participating in the Olympics if I hadn’t made the switch to play for Brazil,” said Nagl, a 35-year-old Brazilian-born golfer who left the country when she was eight years old and had always played for Germany.

“When this idea came up and I realized that I had a chance to make it to Rio, I started dreaming about being at the Maracana Stadium during the opening ceremony,” she said.

Nagl, who plays in the Ladies European Tour and is No. 445 in the women’s world rankings, said she had not given much thought about representing her native country until being contacted by golf officials after Rio was awarded the Games.

“By making the switch, I gave myself a chance to be in the Olympics, but I also thought about how this could be good for Brazil, about how I could become a good ambassador and help the game develop,” she said.

Brazil had only two foreign athletes in its delegation at the 2012 London Games — US basketball player Larry Taylor and Chinese table tennis player Gui Lin. Now about 20 “international” athletes are to take advantage of the many extra spots available for the home nation in Rio.

Rugby is one of the sports in which Brazil lacks tradition, but is to compete in anyway. Hoping to put on a good show in front of the home fans, the local federation launched a worldwide campaign entitled “Brazilian Rugby Players Wanted” to attract athletes playing abroad.

A few who responded to the campaign are to be in Rio, including US-born Cerullo, who has Brazilian parents, but had never visited the country until after contacting Brazilian rugby officials.

Two Brazilian brothers who lived in France also made it on the team, as well as a Brazilian-born athlete who lived and played in Argentina.

England-born Juliano Fiori and France-born Laurent Bourda-Couhet, who has a Brazilian mother, are also to play.

Brazil’s fencing team earned eight additional spots as hosts and included three international players for the Games.

Among them are Ghislain Perrier, who was born in Brazil, but left the country as a baby after being adopted by a French family, and Italian-born Nathalie Moellhausen, who competed for Italy at the 2012 London Games, but chose to be with the hosts in Rio to fulfill the wish of her Brazilian grandmother.

“I don’t have many connections to Brazil,” said Perrier, who has lived and trained in France most of his life. “I spent vacation in Brazil a few times, but I know only a few people there.”

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