Brazilian equestrian Marcos Alves is aiming to go two better and win gold at the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.
The para-equestrian rider already holds the country’s only Paralympic equestrian medals – both bronze – and he is optimistic his countrymen will have plenty to cheer about at the next Olympics.
“Even if the next medal isn’t mine, the important thing is for Brazil to continually improve its performance at the Games. The Brazilian team is highly focused and training very hard to win medals at the Rio Games – and this time we hope they will be silver and, above all, gold,” says Marcos Alves – who is known as ‘Joca’ in the equestrian world.
Both of his medals are bronze: a fine achievement but something he and his teammates are adamant they will improve upon in a little more than two years time.
“If I do as well as I hope, Joca will soon have a fellow Brazilian medallist!” said Sérgio Oliva, who came close to the podium at London 2012, finishing seventh.
“It’s my dream as an athlete to win a Paralympic medal, even more so if it’s gold. I have been working very hard for this since London, with the aim of being one of the winners in 2016.”
The athlete is certain one factor will make the crucial difference in Rio: the power of the support from the Brazilian fans.
“The public makes such a difference with that inspiring support from the stands. It encourages us to give our best at that moment. I hope everyone will come to watch and cheer on the Brazilian athletes, because Brazil is going to do well,” says Oliva.
In the arena, supporters will witness a sport in which conditions reaffirm the Paralympic ideals of equality and overcoming challenges. Not only are the Paralympic evaluation criteria identical to those in the Olympic Games, but male and female riders also compete together, without any gender distinction. And, as in all equestrian competitions, the relationship between the rider and the horse is everything.
“We do a sport that depends a lot on the animal’s performance as well. They are also athletes and greatly influence the result,” Joca says.
Although the sport has been part of the Olympic Games since 1900, equestrian joined the Paralympic programme only in 1984. After a muted reception, the sport was subsequently excluded until the Atlanta 1996 Games. It has been a part of the programme ever since.
If equestrian has been part of the Paralympic programme for a short time, Brazilian participation is even more recent. Debuting in 2004, the Brazilian equestrian team is one of the youngest in the Paralympic competition. A lack of experience was an obstacle that was quickly overcome. A promising start, marked by a ninth place in Athens in 2004, soon led to appearances on the podium. In 2008 Joca took two bronze medals home from Beijing.
As well as making every effort to climb to the top of the podium come 2016, Oliva and Joca both believe that the Paralympic Games will leave a vital legacy, not only for Rio de Janeiro but for the country as a whole.
“The Games will be very important for Rio de Janeiro. In all the other hosts, we saw that the outcome for development was enormous, not only for the city but for the whole country. All the other countries improved a lot, so I believe that the legacy will be extremely positive for Rio and Brazil as a whole,” Joca says.
Apart from Joca, all the other members of Brazil’s current Paralympic equestrian team – male riders Sérgio Oliva and Davi Salazar and female riders Vera Lucia Mazilli and Elisa Melaranci – began their careers in the sport with equine therapy, a type of physiotherapy in which horse-riding is used an instrument used to aid patients’ motor coordination.
“Equine therapy is great treatment for rehabilitation because it stimulates many areas that need treatment. It helps with balance, sensory motion, motor coordination and even emotional aspects,” Oliva says.
Joca agrees. “It shows the importance and power of this type of treatment in rehabilitating many patients, who end up becoming athletes.”