RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazil’s only male Olympic-bound gymnast shares his training facilities with cats and children and has just recovered from a bout of dengue fever.
Diego Hypolito, double world champion in the men’s floor exercise, hopes to win his country’s first Olympic gymnastics gold and prefers his down-to-earth gym to the trappings of a celebrity lifestyle.
“I’m not an actor, I’m an athlete and the big problem with the Brazilian people is that they want to turn athletes into actors,” he told Reuters in an interview.
“I don’t need to go to parties to get noticed. The results make my good image.”
“I have to make the most of the fact that I’m at my peak and not lose my focus.”
Hypolito, 21, has already made his mark.
In 2005, he became the first Brazilian male gymnast to win a world title when he won the men’s floor exercise at the world championships in Melbourne.
He successfully defended his title in Stuttgart two years later and is now heading for his first Olympics.
At one stage his Olympic hopes appeared to be under threat after a series of misfortune.
After undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, Hypolito’s recovery programme suffered a setback when he fell victim to an outbreak of dengue fever which hit Rio de Janeiro.
Hypolito was admitted to hospital with the disease, which causes high fever, severe headache and muscle pains.
He restarted his training programme last month at the modest facilities at Flamengo, where he has practiced for the last 13 years.
Hypolito shares the gymnasium with members of the club’s training school — some as young as three — as well as two resident cats.
“This movement is part of my day-to-day,” said Hypolito, whose seven hours of training every day are followed by five hours of physiotherapy.
“Sometimes, I put on very loud music because the training programme is really monotonous.”
Hypolito said he was unlikely to perform his trademark double twist carped with pirouette, which has been baptized the Hypolito move, in Beijing
“It’s very risky,” he said. “Even though it has my name, it’s a very difficult exercise, a very technical exercise, which demands a lot of me.”
Despite the hard work, Hypolito said he intended to continue competing until the 2020 Games.
“Only time will tell how my head and my body will respond. I want to take part in this and another three Olympics.”
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Clare Fallon