Rebeca Andrade: "The result is a consequence of what I did before."

After a masterful performance at the Brazilian championships, the Olympic vault champion is the one to beat going into October's worlds. But she's not focused on more medals.

By Scott Bregman and Sheila Vieira
Picture by Buda Mendes

History-making gymnast Rebeca Andrade, the first Brazilian woman to win Olympic gold in the sport, has marked herself as the one to beat at October's World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Liverpool, England, after a spectacular performance last week at the Brazilian national championships in Bahia.

At those championships, Andrade won easily even with watered down routines, posting the highest score of the season so far, a 58.100. Comparing scores from competition to competition is difficult to do, especially with domestic events. But, her performance in the middle of August left no doubt: she's in fine form to win Brazil's first-ever all-around world title.

Andrade, a two-time Olympic medallist, is less focused on the results, however.

"I want to be happy, happy, and healthy. I think that's the main one," she told Olympics.com last month when asked of her 2022 goals. "Like I always say. The result is a consequence of what I did before. Sometimes, the best you wanted doesn't happen, you know. But if I'm happy, if I'm sure that I did my best inside on the floor, if I'm sure I wouldn't change anything, do anything differently, if I did my best technique, if I gave my best smile, if I was on my best day of joy and everything, I think it's worth it for me."

Her best could be untouchable in 2022 as she prepares for a world championships that will be without five-time world all-around champion Simone Biles and Tokyo 2020 all-around champion Sunisa Lee, both of whom are currently not competing elite gymnastics but have not ruled out a return to competition.

Andrade has wasted little time getting back into top form since winning world and Olympic gold in 2021. That was part of her plan as she looks ahead at what would be a third Olympic Games in 2024.

“I always wanted to go to Paris, so I didn't have this doubt to say, 'oh my God and now what am I going to do',” she said.

Andrade's Tokyo gold shines bright light

Though her focus may remain the same, her life post-Olympic glory has definitely changed. While Andrade says it hasn’t had much impact on her day-to-day life, she admits she’s recognised much more often as she goes about her day.

Her success has intensified the spotlight her sport sees in Brazil, something of which she’s always dreamed.

“I think that's what I've always wanted, for people to value our sport, right? Our work. And it has been happening. I'm very happy,” Andrade said.

It’s also given her a chance to help inspire the next group of women who now dream of being just like her. Andrade saw her impact first hand at last month’s Brazil Trophy competition.

“My favorite part is competing, because I love competing, and second is all the children asking to take a picture, saying that they started doing gymnastics because of us. And I think that's really cool,” she explained, “because I remember when I was little and I met Dá [Daiane dos Santos, the first Brazilian to win a world gold in gymnastics] and I also told her these things.

“So, I understand the importance of that, the importance of you being a mirror for others, the importance of having someone to be inspired by and admire,” she continued. “So that was pretty cool.”

Learning as she goes

Andrade says she’s changed a lot since that moment with dos Santos.

First, once dogged by injuries – she had three ACL tears prior to Tokyo – she’s learned, with the help of her coach, how to listen to her body and adapt.

“[Francisco Porath] understands very much that I am not the same athlete as when I was 15 years old. He understands that my body has changed a lot during that time, with all the injuries and everything,” said Andrade. “I can talk to him. If I come to a day when I'm not well inside the gym and say, 'Chico, I'm not feeling well today.' We can keep that vault for another day. I can do the floor routine another day, and he can understand that, and he knows that it's not laziness, that it's not fear, that it's really that I'm not feeling my body.”

But her evolution goes further.

Always a supreme talent, Andrade admits she felt that pressure that came with her extraordinary abilities earlier in her career. She’s worked hard with a psychologist to change her approach to competition.

“When I was younger, I suffered a lot from [dealing with pressure], because I knew I had talent and understood all my possibilities, all my chances. But the question of wanting to do what people expected me to do bothered me a lot, because I couldn't think of what I needed to do go get there,” Andrade admits. “At the time, I was just thinking 'Oh, my God, the competition has to end'! 'Oh my God, I got the routine right in this apparatus, what if I get the other one wrong, what if I can't do this routine?'

“And that didn't let me think about what I really needed to think about, you know?” she continued. “And over time, that improved along with my psychologist. I have been doing psychological counseling since I was 13 years old. Now, I'm 23, so in order for me to get to this state, to be able to have this maturity that everyone thinks I have... but I'm a child [laughs]... it took a long time, you know? But it happens, so we have to believe a lot in the process.”

“I don’t think there’s any high-performance athlete who isn’t excited to go to Paris”

That process continues as she thinks about the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, two years away.

“I don’t think there’s any high-performance athlete who isn’t excited to go to Paris,” Andrade says.

But going to a third Olympic Games means more than just medals to the Sao Paulo-native, who now lives and trains in Rio.

“Obviously, we always want to have our best result and we want a medal, we want to get on the podium. And it's kind of obvious, you don't want to train, to do your best, not to win. But sometimes it happens. And that's okay too, you know?” said Andrade.

“Life is made of wins and losses. It's part of it, and I'm prepared for whatever may come. So I really want to be happy. I want to be healthy, to be able to do my best and show as much as I can to the world once again and be proud of the athlete that I am.”

And she’s shown the world exactly what she can achieve when that’s on display.

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