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Rio de Janeiro – Tears flowed down Rafaela Silva’s face as she stood as she jumped into the exuberant crowd with a Brazilian flag wrapped around her shoulders just minutes after winning the country’s first Olympic gold medal.
The 24-year-old judo champion, who was born just miles away, in Rio’s largest slum, won the 57-kilogram division of the Japanese martial art on Monday as the crowd chanted “Rafa” and waved the green and yellow Brazilian flags.
"I hope my medal now will open the door for Brazil to win many more medals," Silva said.
Silva’s win over Sumiya Dorjsuren of Mongolia provided some vindication for the racial abuse Silva, who is black, endured from Brazilians after missing out on a medal at the 2012 London Games. Four years ago, she received text messages telling her "the place for a monkey is in a cage."
"The monkey that they said had to be locked up in a cage in London is today an Olympic champion at home," Silva said. "Today, I'm not an embarrassment for my family."
At the last Olympics, Silva was disqualified for an illegal leg grab during a fight against Hedvig Karakas of Hungary. This time, Silva beat Karakas in the quarterfinals.
Silva, who trained at a judo dojo founded by former Olympic bronze medalist Flavio Canto, was in top form for much of the day. Her first match lasted only 46 seconds.
With its strong martial arts culture — including many shared techniques between Brazilian jiu jitsu, mixed martial arts and judo — Brazil had been expected to do well early on in the judo competition. But defending Olympic champion Sarah Menezes narrowly lost out on a bronze on Saturday in the 48kg category, and so did Erika Miranda at 52kg on Sunday.
Elsewhere, Colombian weightlifter Oscar Albeiro Figueroa Mosquera took home his country’s first gold medal in the 62-kilogram after world record holder Chen Lijuan pulled out because of leg cramps.
Mosquera lifted 142 kilograms in snatch, 176 in clean and jerk and won gold with a total score of 318 kilograms. He was the silver medalist four years ago at the London Games.
Chen says he pulled out during the snatch round after he found treatment on the cramp to be "pretty useless."
Eko Yuli Irawan of Indonesia won silver — one spot better than the bronze he won in London, and Farkhad Kharki of Kazakhstan won bronze in his Olympic debut.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.