Away from Olympic track, Bolt inspires a Rio favela

Fri Aug 19, 2016 3:15pm EDT
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By Ricardo Moraes

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - One year before millions watched him secure a record third 100 meter gold medal at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Usain Bolt lined up at a very different track in Rio.

It was a Thursday in April 2015 and the Jamaican ran the red track that is the pride of Mangueira, where young athletes from the favela, or slum, of 15,000 people train and dream.

In a city reviled for its inequality and where the $12 billion spent on the Olympics are said to have done little to help the poor, Bolt's visit is a small example of the legacy Rio's Games might still have for aspiring athletes.

One such athlete is 16-year-old Anderson Guilherme, who has trained with the program for six years.

In green lycra shorts and sunglasses, Guilherme's torso is a ripple of lean muscle as he stands by a wall painted in the pink and green of Mangueira's famous samba school.

"Everything Bolt does I try to imitate, to see if one day, if God wishes, I could be a third of what he is," he said on a recent Reuters visit.

The track lies between two railway lines, not far from the iconic Maracana soccer stadium where the Olympic opening ceremony was held. Many Mangueira residents watched the opulence of the ceremony's fireworks with a mix of pride and sadness at their exclusion, from their hollow brick homes that cling to the hillside.

But for Vitor Soares, 16, who pulls the champion sprinter's signature "lightning bolt" pose, having the world's greatest athletes in his home city is an inspiration.   Continued...

Jamaican Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt (C) runs with youths at the Mangueira slum Olympic center, ahead of the "Mano a Mano" challenge, a 100-meter race, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 16, 2015. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes/File Photo