MARICA - He has already been dubbed "Archery’s Neymar" and now 17-year-old Marcus Vinicius D'Almeida is being tipped to be one of Brazil's top medal prospects at next year's Rio Olympics.
D'Almeida shot to fame in archery circles last year when he finished second in the archery World Cup final aged just 16.
Already the youngest person ever to qualify for the competition, D'Almeida stunned onlookers by taking twice champion Brady Ellison to a shootout, where he lost by one arrow.
"Everything I do now is geared towards the Olympics," said the timid but self-assured D'Almeida. "My dream is a gold medal, I think all Brazilian athletes dream of that. We work hard every day to see what we can do about it."
His first coach, Dirma dos Santos, said D'Almeida made no immediate impression on her when he turned up in 2010 but he is a classic example of how dedication and hard work can pay off.
"I could see he had perseverance," she said. "He wanted to always improve his technique. When I told him he had a chance to be in the national side he improved leaps and bounds. He was in the Brazil team aged just 14.
"His main quality is that he works very hard. He never missed a training session."
D'Almeida has yet to finish high school and he still competes against opponents as young as 10 at the Brazilian Archery Confederation's training center, where he first picked up a bow and arrow.
The center was opened in 2009 by dos Santos, a 17-times Brazilian champion, and D'Almeida praised it as a home from home for budding archers.
"This is where I started, it's a special place for me," he said after winning a local competition there last Saturday.
"This is a reference for the whole of Brazil, having this base and being able to count on her. The doors are always open so you can always come and train and that is very important."
Dos Santos struggled to set up the center after relocating to Rio de Janeiro following a stay in Italy.
Local sports clubs refused to give her space to set up an archery school and the city would only lease her land for a year so she moved to Marica, a small town about 50 km north of the Olympic city.
With the help of the local government there, she set up a training center.
She did her own marketing by distributing leaflets and offering free classes and put word around local schools. Today more than 50 pupils aged under 22 train there.
"They came sheepishly at the start but I was persistent," she said, between words of encouragement and hugs for the teenage competitors.
"You have to give them love and attention to keep them interested and most of all you have to be patient."
The young archers love it and so do their parents.
"My two children have come every day for six months," said Rita de Cassia Oliveira, mother of 12-year old Nathan and 10-year old Nicolas.
"They're more disciplined, more balanced, more responsible. They're doing better at school because they know they need to get good grades if they want to keep coming."
Although D'Almeida has moved on and now trains with the Brazilian national coach, he said dos Santos' contribution was crucial to his development.
"She is a great coach, we have seen that with fabulous results," he said. "Her teams have been Brazilian champions from kids through to adults so I can't complain." - REUTERS
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