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Brazil women’s gymnastics team wins first world champs medal with matriarch on hand

Brazil, France make women's gymnastics history
France finishes with the silver medal during the women's team competition at the World Gymnastics Championships, its first of its kind since 1950, while Brazil captures bronze for its first women's team event medal ever.

Jade Barbosa, 32, with a silver medal around her neck and younger countrywomen to her sides, explained the significance of Brazil’s first world team medal.

“We didn’t do it for just this generation,” she said through a translator. “We did this for all the Brazilian gymnastics generations. Today we put together our dream team.”

Five Brazilian women combined to take silver at the world championships in Antwerp, Belgium, on Wednesday.

They finished 2.199 points behind the Americans, the closest any nation has come to the U.S. during its record seven-championship win streak dating to 2011.

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It was appropriate that Georgette Vidor, the 65-year-old matriarch of Brazilian gymnastics, was on site for a moment that made the front pages back home.

Vidor is the gymnastics technical director at the famed Rio de Janeiro sports club Flamengo, doors most of Brazil’s best have marched through. She was also the Brazilian women’s national team coordinator from 2009 through 2016.

Vidor, paralyzed in a 1997 accident on a bus carrying her gymnastics team, flew in last week to attend her first world championships since 2019.

Four years ago, Brazil placed 14th at worlds. It missed qualifying a full team for the Tokyo Olympics by two spots, competing without injured star Rebeca Andrade.

On Wednesday, Vidor watched from her wheelchair in the front row of the Sportpaleis. Gymnasts whom she watched as girls at Flamengo propelled Brazil to its greatest collective performance ever.

“I am in this history when we didn’t [have] anything,” she said during qualifying on Monday. “Now, we’re a very good team, and everybody knows Brazil.”

Vidor thought back to when she was a 15-year-old gymnast.

“My coach told me, ‘Georgette, you’re not very good. But you teach very well. Do you want to teach some girls?’” she remembered. “I said, yes, I can.”

She thought back to that day in May 1997 when a truck hit her team bus head-on. She said six people died.

“Three months after the accident, I came back to the gym,” she said. “I love gymnastics.”

She thought back to the 2001 World Championships in Ghent, a Belgian city 30 miles southwest of Antwerp.

There, her pupil Daniele Hypolito became the first Brazilian to win a world championships medal — silver on floor exercise between Romanian Andreea Răducan and Russian Svetlana Khorkina, the sport’s two biggest stars.

“Every coach come to say, man, you are incredible,” Vidor remembered. “They can’t imagine one coach in a wheelchair have a medal.”

(Sports Illustrated reported at the time that Vidor had traded seats with Hypolito minutes before the 1997 bus crash to talk to a fellow coach. Hypolito walked away from the crash with bruises. “I felt God saved my life by having Georgette ask me to change seats,” Hypolito said, according to SI.)

Hypolito also finished fourth in the all-around at 2001 Worlds, missing a medal by 44 thousandths of a point.

Around that time, a young Barbosa began training at Flamengo. Andrade and Flavia Saraiva, born four months apart in 1999, also spent time at the club (though Vidor was never Andrade’s personal coach).

Andrade and seven siblings were raised by their mom, a house cleaner, before she left home outside of São Paulo for gymnastics at age 8.

Saraiva, listed at 4 feet, 9 inches on her Tokyo Olympic bio, developed at one of Rio’s government-sponsored sport programs for low-income children.

Barbosa won all-around silver at the 2007 Worlds and vault bronze in 2010. Saraiva had individual finishes of fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth at worlds between 2018 and 2019.

Then Andrade won Olympic all-around silver in 2021 and world all-around gold in 2022.

The Big Three were part of Brazilian teams that finished eighth at the 2016 Olympics and seventh at the 2018 Worlds.

But then Barbosa suffered a knee injury in vault qualifying at the 2019 Worlds and barely competed the next three years while rehabbing three surgeries.

Andrade, before her recent success, had three separate right ACL tears rule her out of worlds in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

Saraiva injured an ankle at the Tokyo Games. She reinjured it in qualifying at last year’s worlds, where Brazil had hoped to win its first team medal. She competed in the final, but only one apparatus after doing all four in qualifying. Brazil finished fourth, missing a medal by .902.

Everything came together in Antwerp. Andrade and Saraiva both competed on all four events in the team final. Barbosa contributed a vault to become the oldest world championships women’s team medalist in decades.

“We reached a level where we feel really fulfilled,” Saraiva said, according to meet organizers.

Vidor said she had dreamed of a day like this, but believing it could happen was another story.

Francisco Porath Neto, the current national team coach, was told earlier this week that Vidor had flown in.

“She has been with the girls ever since they were kids,” he said through a translator. “Everyone that’s on the team has passed through her.”