Rebeca Andrade: "I knew I had talent and understood all my possibilities"

The reigning World and Olympic vault champion is ready to take centre stage at this week's Pan American Gymnastics Championships in Rio

By Scott Bregman and Sheila Vieira
Picture by Getty Images

Just shy of the one-year anniversary of her Olympic triumphs at Tokyo 2020, Brazilian gymnast Rebeca Andrade will return to international competition for the first time in 2022 at the Pan Am Championships in Rio de Janeiro.

It’s a quick turnaround after having competed in both last year's Olympic Games and World championships, but it is part of accomplishing her next goal: a third Olympic Games at Paris 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 in an exclusive interview with Olympics.com when asked about resetting after winning vault gold and all-around silver in Tokyo.

That doesn’t mean the history maker (she’s the first Brazilian woman to win Olympic gymnastics gold) hasn’t enjoyed the downtime – and some new opportunities in the last 12 months.

“I remember that after the World championships, the first thing I wanted to do was go on vacation. I really wanted to go on vacation so that I could really rest, see my family, my friends, rest my mind and my body to return to the next cycle renewed. And that's what happened,” the 23-year-old explained.

“This period of rest that I had was very important for me to be able to go back and focus, because I think we recharge our energies when we are with those we love, when we do things that we like. So I was able to enjoy it a lot, but the focus remains the same.”

At the Pan Am Championships, which begin Friday (15 July) Andrade intends to compete on at least three apparatus, unsure if she’ll participate on the floor exercise.

“My coach hasn't defined it yet. We are waiting. It depends a lot on how the team is going to be, so I'm still not sure,” she said of her all-around prospects at the event. “But I know I'm not going to do two vaults, that he's already told me about. But when it comes to deciding who is going to go on which apparatus, he hasn't said yet, so I don't know, but I'm training them all.”

In Rio, she’ll be joined by Carolyne Pedro, Christal Bezerra, Flavia Saraiva, Julia Soares and Lorrane Oliveira on the Brazilian squad. They’ll compete for a berth to October’s World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Liverpool.

Andrade's Tokyo gold shines bright light

Her focus may remain the same, but her life post-Olympic glory has definitely changed. Though she 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 two, 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 Games, set for just over two years time.

“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, 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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