November 12, 2008

The Brazilian Scandal: Part 2

We promised you we'd get back to you on the Brazilian scandal. So here we are, presenting our findings. Brace yourselves - it's going to be a long ride.

Over the last few days we've translated our way through several months' worth of gymnastics articles in Portuguese, courtesy of Gymblog Brasil. Most of Gymblog's posts seem to come straight from UOL Esporte and Globoesporte, two of Brazil's largest and most reliable sports sites. We haven't been able to trace all the stories posted in the blog, but we're sure they're legit, so we have no qualms about reprinting them here.

While digging our way through Gymblog Brasil's archives, we came across some interesting stories. (For instance, did you know that Diego Hypolito had a bout of dengue fever a few months before the Olympics? Neither did we. Poor Diego. We've been told by those in the know that dengue fever is unbelievably painful.) In addition, we came across a great interview with Daiane dos Santos which we hope to translate and publish in a few days' time. We learned more about Dos Santos and Laís Souza's injuries than we ever thought we'd care to know. But most of all, we learned why Jade Barbosa always looks like she's about to burst into tears. The girl is having a rough time of it. She really is. Right now she's suffering from kidney stones and a stress fracture in her left foot, and the bones in her right hand are alleged to be as porous as a 50-year-old's. We wish we were making this shit up, but alas, we're not.

Jade and her brother (photo: Globoesporte)

Anyhow, we've decided to spread the story out over a few days so as not to make it too unwieldy. Even so, today's post will be humongous. It will focus mostly on Jade Barbosa and the scandal she unleashed after Beijing. Expect more news about Laís Souza and Daiane dos Santos in a separate post.

First of all, it seems the Barbosa family and the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation have been at loggerheads for a while. Back in July, Cesar Barbosa, Jade's father, was complaining that Jade hadn't received her Federation stipend since January, and questioning the Federation's integrity in contractual matters. But things didn't turn really ugly until September 4, when Mr. Barbosa told the Brazilian press that Jade was suffering from a hand injury and had been doing so for a while. He said it had been obvious to anyone watching her train before the Olympics that she was not going to win the Olympic medals many people were expecting her to bring home.

"Anyone who attended Jade's workouts before the Olympics could see she wasn't going to do well in Beijing," said Cesar Barbosa. "She was in a lot of pain and had lost some of her flexibility. If Jade couldn't even do her exercises properly in training, she obviously wasn't going to obtain good results in Beijing."

Jade Barbosa (photo: FIG)

Mr. Barbosa went on to say that the family was waiting for the results of the medical examinations Jade had undergone the week before to be announced before deciding whether the gymnast required surgery or not. Furthermore, he reported that according to the first doctor who had examined 17-year-old Jade, the bones in her injured hand looked as porous as a 50-year-old's. Her father claimed that this was because "she was forced to train excessively for Beijing, with extreme workouts that were necessary for her to look good there." Mr. Barbosa noted that his daughter had nursed several injuries in her right hand since January, and had not been given sufficient time to stop training and focus on medical treatment instead.

On September 6, the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation's top physician, Dr. Mário Namba, refuted the charges, saying that Jade had been healthy enough to compete in the Beijing Olympics. According to Namba, the athlete had received appropriate care for the injury to her right hand, sustained at the beginning of the year.

"During our training camp in Japan and during the Olympics, Barbosa had a completely normal training regimen," claimed Namba. "Yes, her hand hurt, but we subjected it to conservative treatment, including physical therapy, which allowed it to function properly. If she had been unable to train, we wouldn't have let her compete."

Namba went on to say, "At the beginning of the year, she had an X-ray and complementary examinations. At the time, we opted for conservative therapy. Initially we didn't focus on surgery options. Our treatment yielded appropriate results and allowed Barbosa to perform well during the first half of the year."

Jade in Beijing (photo: Reuters)

Then there was silence for about a week, until September 12, when Jade granted an interview to the Folha de Sao Paulo in which she accused the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation of overdosing her with medicine during the Olympics, causing her to be nauseous and shaky.

The Rio de Janeiro native told the newspaper that she had started to take the anti-inflammatory drug Prexige in February to control the pain in her hand. The drug was prescribed to her by Mário Namba, the Federation's physician. At first, Barbosa took one 400 g tablet per day. By July (when the team was training in Japan) she was on two tablets a day, and by August, during the Olympics, she was taking three pills a day. According to specialists consulted by the Folha de Sao Paulo, it was a case of extreme overmedication.

"I took the pills because of the pain in my hand," Barbosa told the paper. "At first, the pain subsided a bit, but later I began to vomit a lot. I couldn't train well and constantly had the feeling that I didn't have any strength left in my legs."

The gymnast also claimed in the interview that the Federation forbade its athletes to drink water during workouts. "Our coaches wouldn't let us drink water. We could only spray a little water into our mouths to try and refresh our bodies, but secretly we'd try to drink it," said Barbosa.

She then told the newspaper about the kidney stones she has had since 2007, which she blames on the measures adopted by the Federation. "When I was passing kidney stones, I was told by the doctor to drink 1.5 liters of water a day, but the coaches only let me drink a little, and I had to listen to jokes all the time: 'There goes Jade again, taking a sip of her water.'"

Daiane dos Santos (photo: FIG)

The next day, on September 13, Daiane dos Santos admitted that she too had been injured when competing in Beijing. Unlike Cesar Barbosa though, Dos Santos claimed that there had been nothing unusual about the team's preparation for the Olympics. According to Dos Santos, it was the same preparation the team had had before the 2004 Olympics, which saw the girls working out from 8 to 12 AM and from 4 to 7 PM each day.

But Jade Barbosa's story about neglected injuries was about to be confirmed by others. On September 15, UOL Esporte reported the cases of two former national team members who had had problems of their own with the Federation's management and medical staff.

The first case was that of Maíra dos Santos Silva, now 17 years of age, who was a national team member in 2005 and 2006. Maíra left the national training center at Curitiba after having been informed by the Director of the Federation's Medical Department, Mário Namba, that her shoulder required surgery due to torn ligaments and tendons. But according to the former gymnast, she only needed that operation because the Federation had previously neglected to treat an injury and lied to her about the gravity of her situation.

"I often complained about pain to the coaches and Dr. Namba," Dos Santos Silva was quoted as saying. "They'd only give me an anti-inflammatory drug and say I was being fussy. I had several medical examinations, and they always told me the pain was due to dislocation, nothing bad. But one day I couldn't compete anymore, and then they suddenly said I needed an operation."

Maíra said she had gotten injured when she fell during a series of uneven bar routines in February 2006. She claimed the Federation's physicians told her she had merely dislocated her shoulder, and refused to show her the results of the medical examinations. The athlete was discouraged from undergoing surgery. By August 2006, she was unable to train and compete. Shortly afterwards, when she had decided to leave the team, she discovered that she had been lied to.

"I had an MRI scan after my fall, but I wasn't granted access to the results of the scan. When I left the team, I asked for the papers regarding the examinations I'd had after the fall. It was then that I discovered that I had suffered a partial tear in 2006. Only I wasn't aware of it at the time because they never told me. I continued to compete, so the injury only got worse," she said.

Maíra's complaints worried her mother, Sônia Maria, who worked for the Federation as a kind of housekeeper at the Curitiba hostel where the gymnasts lived. Sônia consulted Federation official Eliane Martins, the team coordinator, on the possibility of getting a second opinion on the injury of her daughter, who often returned from workouts complaining about pain in her shoulder. She was met with threats.

"When I asked Eliane [Martins] about the injury, she told me: 'If you want to take her to another doctor, go ahead and do it. But if you do that, no Federation doctor will ever see her again. If she has any complaints in the future, you'll just have take her to your own doctor.' It seemed absurd to me, but as I am from São Paulo and didn't know anything in Curitiba, I ended up accepting the situation," said Sônia, who now lives in Presidente Prudente with her daughter.

Sônia also revealed that the Federation's managers chose to let Maíra compete despite her injury. "Although the MRI scan performed at the end of August indicated that [Maíra] needed surgery, Eliane and the coaches suggested she do not get an operation, as they wanted her to compete in November," said Sônia.


Maíra's case is very similar to that of Roberta Monari, another gymnast who left the national team and now works for Cirque du Soleil in Canada. According to a source close to the gymnast (a source who wishes to remain anonymous), Roberta Monari spent the better part of 2006 complaining of pain in her right foot. Like Maíra dos Santos Silva, she wasn't taken seriously.

"When she said she was in pain and started crying during workouts, they said that she was making excuses so as not to have to train, that she was being fussy. Until the national championships in Goiânia, where she suffered a simple fall during warmup and couldn't compete anymore. Then they finally had her examined and found that she had torn her Achilles tendon. But they had lied to her, because they had known there was a partial tear there ever since April, only they hadn't told her so. When they had announced the examination results, they had said the tendon wasn't completely torn so that she'd agree to compete until the end of the year, wearing some sort of ankle boot," the source said.

Mário Namba, the doctor in charge of the Federation's medical department, was not available for comments at the time of the publication of the article. On behalf of the Federation, Eliane Martins stated that there was no truth to the allegations. She also denied that she had withheld examination results from Maíra dos Santos Silva and neglected Roberta Monari's injury.

"It's strange to see that a while ago, everyone thought the Federation was doing a great job. Now people are changing their minds, and all of a sudden we're doing everything wrong. Interesting to note that these people never started complaining until now. Pure opportunism," Eliane Martins told reporters.

Jade in Beijing (photo: Reuters)

But the story didn't end there. A few weeks later, on October 4, Cesar Barbosa (who was still waiting for a definitive diagnosis of Jade's hand injury) announced that his daughter wouldn't represent Brazil while the current management of the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation remained in charge.

"A return to the team would be risky and I don't want her to run the risk of these things happening again," said Mr. Barbosa in a telephone interview. He was quite emphatic about the whole thing, stating that Jade would only compete for Brazil if the Federation changed leadership.

"Jade will only go back there if there's a change of management. That's our only condition."

The Barbosas may not have to wait very long for the change of management to happen. The current management team's contract expires in December, and Ms. Martins and her team have announced that they will not seek re-election. They claim this decision has nothing to do with the current scandal. "The decision was made in 2006. We've been in charge for long enough," said Eliane Martins, who is part of a group which has run the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation for 17 years, on 7 November.

Meanwhile, Daiane dos Santos and Laís Souza have also distanced themselves from the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation, albeit in a slightly more subtle way. Both athletes recently underwent surgery; neither of them bothered to go through the official channels, arranging everything through their club (Pinheiros) instead. Reportedly the Federation officials were among the last people to be told that Daiane dos Santos had decided to have an osteotomy.

"We sent the Federation an official letter yesterday, saying that we wouldn't do any more competitions for the rest of the year," was all Dos Santos was prepared to say on the subject on October 21. "We're doing everything with the support of our club. The team is in Curitiba and we're here at our club."


Meanwhile, according to a November 11 report, Jade Barbosa has been diagnosed with necrosis in a small bone in the center of her hand. According to her doctor, it's a serious injury caused by repetitive strain. And apparently she's recovering from a small stress fracture in her left foot too.

According to her father, Jade has not done any serious training for two months. "She goes to the gym, sees the girls, and wants to train with them, but she can't. She's only doing leg exercises," Mr. Barbosa was quoted as saying on November 9. He lamented the fact that Jade would miss the World Cup Final in Spain in December. "This is messing up her plans. She's upset and has had psychological counseling since the Olympics."

Moreover, Jade still doesn't know whether her right hand is improving at all. She was supposed to have a new MRI last Monday to assess the state of her hand, but according to a November 11 report, a painful kidney stone attack prevented her from going through with the examination. Jade, who has suffered from kidney stones since 2007, started to feel bad at the end of last week. If she recovers in time, the examination will still be carried out this week. The results of the examination will determine whether or not Cesar Barbosa will sue the Federation for negligence.

Interestingly enough, it seems that no one is blaming Oleg Ostapenko, the Ukrainian coach who was in charge of the Brazilian women's team from 2001 to August 2008, for the current crisis.

While Jade Barbosa has admitted to having had her share of problems with Ostapenko, she seems keen on remembering only the good things about the former head coach. On August 18, just before Ostapenko was due to leave the country, she was quoted as saying, "When he goes away, people won't remember the bad things. The bad things don't matter anymore now. What matters is that Brazil has improved over the last few years."

For her part, Daiane dos Santos believes that Brazil must go on doing things the way Ostapenko did them. "We have to learn how to use what we've learned from him," she said on August 18. "We mustn't go and change things, we must go on the same way."

Oleg Ostapenko with Barbosa (photo: Globoesporte)

To prove that Ostapenko wasn't necessarily the bad guy in the Brazilian story, it was revealed on October 16 that São Paulo's Pinheiros club (where Daiane dos Santos and Laís Souza have trained since leaving the national training center in Curitiba) had offered Ostapenko a job when his contract with the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation expired, which we doubt the club would have done if its two greatest stars had any serious complaints about their former coach. However, the club and the Ukrainian coach couldn't come to an agreement. "In his eyes, a top-level coach only works with three athletes at a time. We wanted him to work with all our gymnasts. Not that he was supposed to personally coach all the girls in the various categories, but we did want him to supervise the whole program. He didn't want that," João Vicente Axe, Director of Artistic Gymnastics at Pinheiros, told UOL Esporte.

UOL Esporte also revealed that Ostapenko's departure from Brazil may not be definitive. Before he returned to Ukraine, the coach returned the keys of the house he used to live in to the Federation's managers. However, according to UOL Esporte, he also bought an apartment in Curitiba, leading some to believe that he might return soon.

To be continued, we expect.


  1. I dunno if you know, but somebody mentioned on a gym board about this scandal that the medication that Jade was taking ended up being recently banned in Brazil for causing fatal liver damage. I don't know the details, but that's frightening.

  2. We just looked it up, and it appears to be true. Frightening indeed. Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

    Which gym board was that, by the way? We're always up for good gym gossip!

  3. Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. It's WWGym where I heard this from.

  4. they need a punishment !!

  5. They certainly do! We hope they'll get it. If stories like ours can help to bring that about, good!