RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Foreign coaches, big investment and a focus on new sports are Brazil’s weapons as the 2016 Olympics hosts target a top-10 place in the medal table for the first time at the Rio de Janeiro Games a year from now.
Brazil hopes to win medals in at least 13 different sports with a quantum leap in performance.
The 10th spot on the medals table at the last two summer Games was held by France and Australia, both of whom won medals in more than 10 disciplines.
But finishing in the top 10 is a big challenge for a nation that devotes most of its time and money to soccer.
“It’s a tough challenge but it’s not impossible,” Erika Miranda, a silver medallist at the world judo championships in Rio two years ago, told Reuters.
“Judo is one of the sports that must weigh in with medals if we are to finish in the top 10. But when you prepare, you are confident and I am confident we will do well.”
Brazil has historically won gold, silver and bronze medals in fewer than 10 disciplines, with most coming in volleyball, judo, athletics and sailing.
But as it prepares to wow the world and its home fans in 2016, the South American nation has given special attention to individual sports that offer more bang for their buck.
“We can highlight canoeing, handball, water polo, shooting, amongst others, as sports that have developed during this Olympic cycle and are coming to Rio with excellent performances,” said Marcus Vinicius Freire, the executive director of sports with the Brazilian Olympic Committee (COB).
Canoer Isaquias Queiroz was world champion in the 500 meters event in 2013, teenage archer Marcus Vinicius D’Almeida was runner-up in the world championships last year, and the women’s handball team will defend their world title in December.
Other sports such as judo and sailing are events in which Brazil hopes individual competitors will score big.
Coaches in rugby from New Zealand, gymnastics from Russia, and wrestling from Cuba are among the dozens of outsiders brought in to share their expertise in sports not traditionally associated with Brazil.
Since Brazil’s Sydney 2000 Olympics debacle, when it failed to win any golds and finished 52nd, performances have improved and the country was 22nd in the medal table at London 2012.
It won 27 medals in world championships in all sports in 2013 and 24 the following year — both record hauls.
The COB said it would spend one billion reais (around $287 million) on high performance athletes in the four years to 2016 and officials are optimistic about the country’s prospects.
“This is the best four-year period in Brazilian Olympic history,” said Freire. “Today the COB is working with around 17 sports (that offer) potential results in 2016 in order to get a podium finish in around 13 of them.”
Brazil has already guaranteed athletes 353 places for their home Olympics and hopes to increase that number to about 400 by the time the Games begin on Aug. 5, 2016.
More than two-thirds of the athletes who went to the Pan American Games in Canada last month were taking part in their first multi-sports event, a statistic that shows how Brazil is bringing through young prospects.
But it also leaves a question mark over whether they will have the maturity to handle fanatical crowds on home soil.
“I don’t feel the pressure, all my best results have been at home,” said Miranda. “But the athletes that feel the pressure, they are working on it. There is a year to go and they have time to work on the nerves and the anxiety.”
Writing by Andrew Downie; Editing by Ken Ferris