Alan Oliveira: Boy from Brazil is ready for Rio – and Oscar
Alan Oliveira caused a major upset by beating his rival in the 200m final – now he wants to do it in the 400m, he tells Jerome Taylor
When Alan Oliveira crossed the finish line of the 200m eight days ago to beat his rival Oscar Pistorius, he did more than cause one of the greatest upsets in Paralympic sporting history. Whether he knew it then or not, he also catapulted himself onto the international stage, creating an overnight global superstar.
Barring disaster, in four years' time Oliveira will be the face of Rio. Alongside swimming legend Daniel Dias, who is taking home an astonishing six medals from London 2012, he will be the Latin American nation's poster boy for the Paralympic Games.
In glorious sunshine outside the athletes' village yesterday, the Brazilian team gathered for an impromptu celebration, and it was already clear that Oliveira was their hero. Brazilian journalists jostled for time with the 20-year-old while team mates – many of whom had won more medals than him – kept asking him to sign their t-shirts.
"I'm looking forward to going back home, seeing my family, friends and girlfriend," he told The Independent. "We're going to get together and have a big party to celebrate. And then there's 2016 which will be a huge celebration."
Discovered as a schoolboy in his home town of Belém while running on completely unsuitable wooden prosthetics, Oliveira was snapped up by Brazil's youth talent team and taken to Sao Paulo where he lives and trains with fellow gold medal sprinter Yohansson Nascimento.
Inevitably the next four years will be dominated by his now bitter rivalry with South Africa's Pistorius.
What will happen when they meet next year in Lyon for the world championships? Will Oscar dominate once more in the 200m? Or will Oliveira learn how to run the 400m and topple the South African once and for all?
There is little love lost between the two following Pistorius' ill-timed outburst in the heady aftermath of the 200m final, in which he accused Oliveira of having an unfair advantage with his extra-long blades.
Since then the two athletes – who used to consider each other friends – have barely exchanged a word.
"He has only said hello to me once at the medal ceremony," reveals Oliveira who then adds somewhat pointedly: "But that doesn't affect me. What I have to show, I show on the track."
It's clear the rivalry, the criticism and the suggestion that anything other than hard work helped him win the 200m has stung Oliveira, making him more determined than ever to prove his detractors wrong.
"I think every athlete is improved by this kind of motivation," he says. "The way [Oscar] tried to steal my thunder on such an important day, that motivates me more and makes me want to win more gold medals."
On Saturday night, his last race, the Brazilian stormed out of the starting blocks for the 400m but struggled in the final stages of the race, finishing fourth as Pistorius won by a wide margin. Although he doesn't mention the South African by name, it's obvious he longs to beat him in his favourite race.
"The 400 is not my event so my strategy was to go as fast as I could from the beginning to get enough distance from my opponents," he says. "But my last 100m is not good because I don't train specifically for this event. I will keep focusing on the 200 but start training more on the 400. I know I'm good enough at it because I got into the final. So I'm going to begin training more and more."
In the short term the rest of the Brazilian team can relax, knowing that they have met the target they set themselves of coming seventh in the medal table at London. But come Rio they want to be fifth, a considerable jump in the rankings. To reach seventh place in London, Brazil racked up 21 golds. To make anything like fifth they will need to win at least another 10.
"It's going to be tough," admits Andrew Parsons, the head of Brazil's Paralympic committee. "We're on the right track but we need far more resources, investment and training centres in Brazil."
Investment in disabled sport in Brazil has more than doubled from about 77m reals (£23m) in 2005-2008 to some 165m reals (£50m) in 2009-2012, 98 per cent of which is public sector funding.
To win more medals, however, Brazil must find more talent. After all, nearly a third of their golds at London 2012 were won by Daniel Dias alone; his six in London coming on top of the six he won in Beijing.
Asked about his hopes at the Rio Games, Dias replied: "I hope everyone can see Brazil is not just a country of football – that we can represent all sports as well as we did here. Fifth is a hard target but it's possible. We need to keep up the hard work and we have new athletes coming in."
Dias, meanwhile, says he has a new way of staying fit. Breaking into a broad grin he began pulling out all six medals from a black backpack. One medal alone was heavy but six weighed a ton, he joked: "I think I might start using these to work out".
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