Brazilian boxer from the favela loses to Colombian

The people of Vidigal, one of the many shantytowns, or favelas, that dot the hillsides above the beaches of Rio, don't seem thrilled about all the money their country has spent to host the Olympics. But they were cheering on hometown boxer Patrick Lourenco, the first person from their community to compete in the Olympics.

Medal favourite Patrick Lourenco was the 1st person from his community to compete in the Olympics

WATCH: Brazilian boxer Patrick Lourenco training

6 years ago
Duration 0:49
WATCH: Brazilian boxer Patrick Lourenco training

His story speaks to the hope an Olympics can inspire, but also the realities of a Games in Rio de Janeiro that can't be ignored.

Brazilian boxer Patrick Lourenco, 23, entered the ring for his first bout on Saturday as a medal favourite for the home team, fighting in the 49-kilogram weight division. But he then lost to 24-year-old Yurberjen Herney Martinez of Colombia.

Still, it's where Lourenco was born, the community he still calls home, that makes his path to the Olympics so remarkable.

The 23-year-old is from Vidigal, one of the hundreds of shantytowns, or favelas, that dot the hillsides above the beaches of Rio. 

Five years of almost constant police presence have made Vidigal among the safer favelas in Rio, but back when Lourenco was growing up, it was a dark and desperate place ruled by drug gangs and the law of bullets.

'We were really scared'

His own father was caught up with the gangs and died in a shootout when Lourenco was only three years old.

His mother feared her son could end up following the same path.

Brazilian boxer Patrick Lourenco was a medal favourite going into his bout on Saturday and the first person from his favela in Rio to compete in the Olympics. (Supplied by the Laurenco family)

"We were really scared," Renata Chagas said. "Every time we saw him going with dodgy characters, or doing something questionable, we would have to sit him down."

Then, at age 13, Lourenco found his way into a Vidigal boxing gym run by Raffa Giglio.

He flourished, rising in the ranks to become one of the best light flyweights in the world.

Giglio says he became more nervous about the Olympics than Lourenco. And even though he made sure not to miss his student's first bout as an Olympian, the coach isn't a fan of these Games.

"I love sport and boxing, but … this country doesn't need an Olympics," he said. "Brazil needs health care, education, culture, sports for the kids, lots of things. I love the Olympics, but I think it's something for a First World nation, not a Third World nation."

Giglio's comments seem to reflect the prevailing mood in the favelas, home to some of Rio's most vulnerable and impoverished residents.

Brazil has spent billions to host the Games at a time when the country can least afford it.

Brazil's economic downturn has trickled down to every aspect of community life. Police in Vidigal, for example, haven't been paid in weeks, and even soup kitchens are scaling back or shutting their doors.

Still, Giglio can see how a local Olympian can inspire his community.

He's hopeful as he looks around at the teenagers training in his gym rather than roaming the streets.
Boxing coach Raffa Giglio trains one of his students. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC News)

"Patrick is an inspiration, an idol, and a role model, but it also means they have to work hard and make the most of their opportunities," he said.

'Tears of joy'

As Lourenco's family flipped through old photographs of a young man trying out his first boxing gloves, his grandmother choked up.

"Every time I watch him, it makes me want to cry, but tears of joy," said Maria Celia Silva. "As somebody who helped raise him and fed him soup by the window, watching cars go by, watching him grow and become a man, he really brings me pride."
Patrick Lourenco's family looks at pictures from his childhood in Vidigal. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC News)

Back at the boxing gym, there may have been disdain for all the money spent on the Olympics, but there was also something exciting to consider: no athlete from Vidigal has ever competed at the Olympics, let alone come home with a medal.

"It will be one for the history books," said Giglio, hoping for a win that didn't materialize, adding that any victory would ignite a party in the favela lasting more than a week.


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