When the final rankings of the 2020/21 monobob (individual bobsleigh) were decided at Altenberg, Germany, in February, few expected that a Brazilian name would be on the podium.
“I have a Nigerian friend who was there, she filmed it, and everyone was looking at each other's faces, like, 'Who is this?'
This is Marina Tuono, a 26-year-old Brazilian residing in the U.S. who secured third place in the 2020/2021 season thanks to a second-place finish and two thirds in Park City, USA.
She now hopes to become the first Brazilian to represent her nation in women's monobob at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
In an exclusive interview with Olympics.com (below), the South American reveals how she ended up in a monobob, what she does when she is homesick, and much, much more.
'I competed, I won the points' - Marina Tuono to Olympics.com.
Every athlete in the world was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. In the case of monobob, many European competitors couldn't participate in the American stages of 2020/2021. However, this fact cannot diminish the achievements of the Brazilian.
“I thought, 'Okay, that's right, I got there, I competed, I did'," she continued. "Of course there was the issue that I was only here, in the U.S., and I managed to compete in all the stages here while others couldn't. But that doesn't take away my merit because I competed, I won the points. This helped me psychologically to have more confidence in myself and to not think that I'm just a girl who came to do winter sports, from a country where winter sports 'don't even exist'."
Tuono's main objective now is a place in the Winter Olympics, but she's not the only one.
“Qualifying is not easy, but if you try hard, you can do it," she said. "I want to go, but I also want to do well at the Winter Games."
Another motivation for Tuono is to inspire other Brazilians wanting to try winter sports.
“I don't want it to end here, at the 2022 Games or at the next Olympic cycle, but rather to open the way for other girls in Brazil. We have so many talents, but they don't have opportunities because it's a winter sport, and they have to travel”.
First step in qualification: Copa America
Before Tuono can make her Winter Olympic dreams come true, she must qualify through the continental Copa America, which began 7 November in Whistler, Canada.
“My focus is to earn the necessary points here at the Cup and then get more track experience in Europe before the Games. But if I don't get what I need here, then I'll go to Europe with the objective of earning points”, explained Tuono.
The women's monobob will have 20 berths in Beijing, but 14 are reserved for athletes who also compete in the 2-woman event, which is not the case with Tuono. Therefore, the Brazilian is effectively fighting for one of six places among the athletes who specialise in the individual competition.
An unlikely route into monobob
After making the national bobsleigh team, Tuono moved from Brazil to Canada ahead of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics in order to dedicate herself to the sport and improve her chances of selection. After failing to land a place on the Olympic team, the Brazilian switched to skeleton. After deciding that the head-first sliding discipline wasn't for her, she reinvented herself once more, this time in the monobob.
The new Olympic sport was a perfect fit.
“On the monobob there's no one sitting behind you (like in bobsleigh), there's no risk of hurting anyone," she continued to Olympics.com. "You can only hurt yourself (laughs). But in the next Olympic cycle, I'll have more confidence to put someone behind me safely”, said Tuono, who's first sporting love was artistic gymnastics.
As part of her move to the U.S., Tuono studied sports science at college and took up weightlifting, but the ice remained her prime focus.
“The monobob was a challenge for me, but when someone gives me a challenge I don't stop until I get what I want. It's a sport that always has something new to conquer”.
Tuono was unable to travel to Brazil during the pandemic and is yet to meet her nephew, who was born in 2020. However, competing alongside other Brazilian winter athletes - especially her great friend and former teammate from skeleton Nicole Silveira - makes her feel a little closer to home.
“They [Brazilian men's bobsleigh team] are very good people, they help me a lot," Tuono said. "Because in the monobob you need to move the sleigh yourself and it weighs 160kg. So they help me carry it. Sometimes I get stressed because they talk too loud (laughs), but I also like it because it makes me feel at home,” said Tuono.
For the next few months, Tuono's home will be the ice of North America, Europe and, if all goes well, Beijing.