Few if any athletes have impressed me as much as Robert Scheidt, the sailor who, if he wins a medal next week, will become Brazil’s greatest every Olympian.
Scheidt is competing in the star class with his partner Bruno Prada.
If they win Scheidt will overtake another sailor, Torben Grael, the former king of Star. Scheidt already has two gold and two silver medals, one behind Grael’s tally of two gold, a silver and two bronze.
For all his immense talent, Scheidt is very down to earth.
I’ve interviewed him a couple of times at his base at Santo Amaro Yacht Club in the south of Sao Paulo.
The place is idyllic (see photo left) – especially considering it is just miles from some of the city’s grimmest neighbourhoods – and Scheidt was friendly and likeable.
I wrote this about him in my Reuters story in May:
Brazil is known as a soccer powerhouse. But if Olympic medals are any measure, it might just as well be known as the country of sailing.
While not quite the household character in Brazil that former soccer ace Ronaldo is, Scheidt is not far off, at least when the Olympics come along.
“Brazil has won more Olympic medals in sailing than any other sport and although Brazilians don’t know how it works 100 percent, they know it and they know the heroes,” Scheidt told Reuters in an interview in his home city of Sao Paulo.
“When we win people stop us on the streets and congratulate us. We know we’ll never be as popular as football, which is like a religion here, but we are doing what we love and we have a great level of support to help us make our dreams come true.”
One of the most interesting things he said was comparing football to sailing. They appear to have nothing in common but the way that Brazilians and Europeans approach them conform to all the old stereotypes.
Scheidt says there are similarities between Brazilian footballers and sailors. On the water, as on the football pitch, Brazilians tend to be creative, especially compared to Europeans, who are more pragmatic.
“Europeans train differently, they train lots more short and intense regattas, whereas Brazilians do longer training, looking to use the speed of the boat,” Scheidt said.
“We know how to surf the waves and use their power. Europeans are more about tactics and the fundamentals, the start, which line to take, how to attack, how to defend. We are free-er, in part because we don’t have the same infrastructure.”
That may be true, but so far the fundamentals are proving more important than creativity. With two days to go, Scheidt and Prada trail Britons Ian Percy and Andrew Simpson.
The gold medal will be decided on Sunday with the final medal race.