By Pritha Sarkar
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – There was plenty of chest thumping and free flowing tears on Saturday as Olympic champion Arthur Zanetti and his band of Brazilian brothers produced the performance of their lives to reach the men’s team gymnastics final on their Games debut.
A nation that had never fielded a full team at the Olympics before Saturday showed what the fans had been missing as they fueled a carnival atmosphere in the arena with their pumped up celebrations each time they nailed a routine.
As Brazil’s first and only Olympic gymnastics champion, rings specialist Zanetti spent the last four years being a poster boy for the Rio Games and he was the man everyone wanted to see on Saturday.
In his only performance of the day, he maintained straight bodylines as he lifted himself into a succession of strength moves — such as the inverted cross, the Maltese maneuver and the handstand — in a routine packed with high difficulty.
It was just a shame that his performance was in front of rows and rows of empty red seats as barely three thousand fans had been able to gain entry into the 13,200-capacity arena by the time he mounted the rings with the chants of “Zanettti, Zanetti, Zanetti” ringing in his ears.
Many fans were left fuming because by the time they had been allowed in, Zanetti was done for the day.
“I don’t believe it. It’s absurd, ridiculous. What I most wanted to see was Zanetti on the rings,” Natalia Carvalho told Reuters after discovering she was too late to see him despite sprinting into the venue once she had cleared security.
“It’s a lack of respect for the fans who bought tickets. It’s a shame.”
Liliane Oliveira, from Minas Gerais State, added: “It lacked organization, there were only two entrances to all arenas of the Olympic Park and the security check was taking too long. They should have prepared better for this.”
While Zanetti qualified for the rings final after earning Brazil’s highest score of the day with 15.533, Diego Hypolito showed there was still plenty of explosive tumbles left in his 30-year-old body as the 2005 and 2007 floor world champion produced a performance that earned him 15.500.
The man who failed to live up to expectation at the Beijing and London Games was left an emotional wreck as soon as he nailed his final tumble and burst into tears.
He will get a chance to battle it out for a medal on the floor exercise after making the eight-man cut for the final.
“I started crying because I had worked for 12 years for this moment,” said Hypolito, who earned the loudest cheers of the day after making amends for falling flat on his face in London.
“After two Olympic failures, it is very difficult to show your face again at the Olympic Games. Today, my soul was cleansed.”
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, additional reporting by Pedro Fonseca, editing by Toby Davis/Peter Rutherford)