Peruvian sports journalist Pina Pozo interviews Brazilian Olympic wrestler Aline da Silva to uncover what happens behind the scenes at the Olympic Games and the day-in-the-life-of at Tokyo 2020.
Welcome to the Strong Women, Better World Podcast Series: Season Two. As you know, we have focused on the road to Tokyo, and if you haven't already listened to our first three episodes, be sure to check them out. Today we take a detour and we’re excited to drop this very special bonus episode titled: Reflections From Tokyo. You are in for a treat because today we're going to hear from Aline Siva from Brazil. Aline is an Olympic wrestler and Brazil's first world champion medalist. She's fresh back from Tokyo and we have the privilege of learning about her experiences, reflections, and what is next in these athletes’ lives? I am Pina Pozo from Bolivia, a sports journalist who had the privilege of covering the Tokyo games and watching my sister Aline compete. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to this Strong Women, Better World Podcast, a special episode. Today we traveled to South America to Brazil to hear from one of the strongest women I have ever met. Aline is not only physically strong. She's mentally tough and has a heart of gold. And just to give you some perspective for Allina to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, it means she had to prove through qualifying competitions that she's one of the worlds sixteen best wrestlers, sixteen in the whole wide world. Hello Aline my strong sister, first of all, your entire GSMP family wants to tell you how proud we are of you. Not only because you are a world class athlete, but more so because of your humble spirit and kind heart.
Thank you Pina, thank you for the so warm welcome. I'm really happy to be here sharing this moment, sharing stories with you. Thank you for all the GSMP family. You've really made a difference in my life.
Okay, let's get on the mat and start this first round. You're home from Tokyo, how are you feeling? What was the first thing you did when your right home?
First thing was thinking about what would come next and try to organize myself. I'm still very focused on my routine as an athlete. We have to have our week well prepared like food, clothes, like I used to organize my clothes to train and all the time, like this schedule very well organized. I tried to do that and it was hard because after the Olympic games, my schedule wasn’t very well set up as it was before. And this is hard for our mind because before the Olympic games, every day I wake up knowing what I had to do, it was eat all the food that my nutrition said that it's good for me, go to train, come back and rest, eat again, train hard again, treat my, all my pain, all my hurts, sleep well, long nights to recover well and start all again. After the Olympic games it's so weird because we don't have to do any of this again. And I think routine is something important for me, I think for most people, most people that though might not actually realize how routine is so important for us to set up our goals and to achieve and to feel like we are filling out a report post everyday.
I can’t even imagine what it would be like coming home after such an intense and pressure-filled experience. We know though that the games are only one tiny part of what an Olympic athlete does, there is four years of grueling practices. There’s strict dieting, as you said, and lots of personal sacrifices. Can you tell us a little about what the six months were like for you prior to the games? All with a pandemic still disrupting every area of our lives, help us understand what life was like in the months, weeks, and days, leading up to Tokyo.
For me, it was a very different experience from Rio 2016. Of course the pandemic, it has huge impact, but my thinking, my way of seeing the Olympic games has changed so much so that all my feelings and my way of handling this huge tournament change too. So, I was with this routine as an athlete that I told you, like training, eating, resting, sleeping, but also I was sharing my time with managing my program, Me Empodera, and some management on the National Federation of Wrestling. I am the vice-president now. So it was very busy and I had the very, very tight agenda. And that was good for me actually because for Rio, I was only training and felt like my whole world, all that I am, you was an athlete. And you was about to get a medal. And if I get a medal in 2016 would mean that I succeed, if not, I'm nothing. And it was exactly how I felt after the Olympic Games in Rio, 2016. So during this five years of preparation, I participate in the GSMP that helped me so much to develop my own program.
For the audience, GSMP stands for the Global Sports Mentoring Program, a women's empowerment, sports diplomacy initiative sponsored by the US Department of State and implemented by the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society at the University of Tennessee. That's where Aline and I first met in 2017. Sorry, Aline, please continue.
And it came to me a whole new meaning of why I'm wrestling and why that is important for me. During the six months prior the Olympic games in Tokyo, it was important for me to keep working, keep managing my program, keep working with the Federation to make sure that my body and my feelings understand that I'm more than just a medal, I'm more than just an athlete. But when I traveled to Tokyo, I promised myself that I would just focus on wrestling because it was a very, very busy agenda here. I thought like, okay, one month before it's good to just prioritize the Olympic Games, but with the pandemic, we were only going to train and coming back to the hotel, we weren't even seeing sun. Until we get to the Olympic village, it was very hard for me because I was doing a lot of things in Brazil and then there everything stopped all of a sudden. And when we are close to the tournament, our trainings are not so, so hard anymore. They are not long. They are short training, very, very intensive, but we have a lot of recovery to be good in the day of the tournament. So it was hard for me to handle with all the protocols of the pandemic, all the pressure, because you have no other ways to distract yourself to handle it with your pressure to compete, you know, but when, once I was in the village, everything went great because there we could see the sun, we could walk to the place to eat or, you know, to the place to train, and see more people. It was good. It was really good. So feel that they are, they were really taking care of all the protocols about COVID. That was something I was worried because. We heard that a lot of people in Japan, didn’t want the Olympic games to go there because of their safety because of their life and I totally agree and understand. But once I was there and I could see at least for the athletes that the protocols were so strict, so very well implemented, I felt like, okay, I'm not doing something actually wrong because that was another part that was hard for me to handle because I was training and only focusing on the Olympic Games every day in my life while people were struggling to leave, struggling to keep their health, to fight against COVID while you were thinking about a huge event, a sports events that it's so hard to think about this magnitude of sports event without taking the risk of losing some lives. So once I was there and I felt that all the protocols were so strict, I felt better, and that helped me too.
Wow. Yeah, something very different. If you don't mind, Aline, walk us through the day of your match then from morning until the fight was over and you return to the village that afternoon.
Well, it was a normal day of tournament. I wake up very early and went to my weigh-in. After the weigh-in I stood there in the tournament because the wrestling would start in two hours. I just drank, ate breakfast, and wait for my fight. After my fight, I came back. I waited to see if the Turkish girl would win until the finals. If she did have them, I would be bring to the competition again, but she didn’t. Then I came back to the village and took a shower and normal like normal day.
Like a normal day. And could you tell us what lessons you learned through this experience, what you learned about yourself and the world you live in and want to impact?
Well, I wouldn't say that Olympic games has teaching me anything. I think it's more about my journey, more about all that I have struggled to overcome during all my life to be there and actually people give too much importance to Olympic Games. For me, it's more about personal achievement. I think it's not about like being around the best athletes in the world. It's just more from where I came, where I were. I think this is more about like every person has their own fights, so if I can, for some people to be a gold medalist was the least that they were expecting. For some people did, there was a very huge achievement. And I know people say that all the time, but I don't feel that they say for real like, oh, well, okay. Be there. It's a real achievement because everybody, while they are saying that they say that they will share, they will be crossing their fingers for us to get medal. They will be there cheering for us to get a medal. So for them, they actually are expecting a medal because it looks like if we get a medal, we will be champions. We will have the achievement that we want. And actually I think for the system, to work for all the marketing or the commercial around the Olympic games, the medals, and put the medals up there. It's important. But for us athletes, I don't think that is fair. The competition, you know, I can't think and about, I can't expect me to get a medal. When I don't have the same condition of training, the same facilities, the same coaches, the same partners. I don't train as long as my opponents, like I have opponents that are wrestling since they were six, seven years old. I don't have the same doping control than other athletes, because I know that there were athletes that have never tested for the doping control and I am being tested every month. That's not fair.
Well, to me being there and seeing you on the mat that day. Oh, I felt so proud and emotional. I was like, I'm about to cry when I saw you tearing. No, it was something amazing. Not everybody gets to get there, and you are very special Aline, very special. And we could spend a lot of time unpacking just this one day of your life, but let's shift our focus to the future. Something we know you're really excited about. What's next for you? What gold medal-worthy goals do you have for this next chapter of your life?
So I have done a lot of lectures here in Brazil about what being an athlete means, what sports can teach us. And I always say that sports teach us life as Billie Jean King said well, and that we are prepared to be whatever we want after the sports. But now for me, I think it's time to prove it. So I want to be an entrepreneur, not only in Me Empodera, that is an NGO. I wanted to do another kind of entrepreneurship. So right now I'm working on a business plan of digital platform where people can lend money to people in this platform. So I believe that we can help a lot of people that have some idea, want to study and needs capital needs money, and they don't have access. A lot of people don't have access to the huge banks here in Brazil. They are not in the financial system. So I think it's a problem that we should solve with this business because in Me Empodera, we help a lot of families through sports. We are helping the students, but they still struggling to survive. They are still struggling with their lives, with no funding, no helping, you know, and a lot of families there do extra jobs to increase their incomes. So they have an opportunity to the micro entrepreneurships that could not just bring in extra income, but could be their income. They just need to be taught how to manage their money for their business. So we went to this platform that won't be only about lending money, but about financial education too. I am talking of a lot of people because I don't have around me, people who has the money to start a business, but I have the knowledge. I have studied a lot. I have all these skills I believe. So now I am focusing on working in this business plans and make it happen as I did with Me Empodera.
You mention Me Empodera. Can you tell us exactly what it is and where this idea come from?
Well, the idea came from my life. I didn't came from a social program, but I started practicing sports in my school and practice changed my life if I hadn’t tried wrestling, if I hadn't fallen in love with judo, that was my first sport, I probably wouldn't be here because my mom, single black woman was working very hard to put food on our plates and she couldn't be there watching me all the time. So I was spending a lot of time on streets. Now I have visit more than 30 countries. I speak another language. I have two college degrees. I did an MBA, you know, and then I start to think, oh my life hasn't been easy. It's not just about all the struggle that the usual struggle that people has to about money. I was very vulnerable during my teenage time and early adult life. And so sports has meant everything for me, but also English because when I learned English, the doors of the world were open to me. I mean like now I, right now I'm talking with a sister, a friend from Bolivia. I have another one in France. I have another one in Nigeria, you know, and before that I was traveling the road with sports, but not communicating with people, not making friends. And so I thought what had helped me in my life was sports and English. I want to teach that for, and have, give this opportunity for other girls. We start from there. So Me Empodera offers wrestling and English classes. And then I thought about all the abuse that I went through, all the sexual things that I had to learn by myself and a lot of things about drug and alcohol that I learned on streets. I would like to have somebody to talk about that with me. And then we put one class a week of life skills that we talk about all these issues that I believe that they need a space to talk. And that's it. Me Empodera that is a life. We teach that in Sao Paolo the state of Sao Paolo in a city called Cubatão. It's near by the beaches there, we are in the poor community in Cubatão that really need support because they don't have government support. They don't have other, too many options like projects and social programs happening there. The program is making more good for me than I am doing for them. That's the thrill, like well, we think we are doing something to help others, but actually. They are helping me. They are changing me every day.
Oh, how nice. If I get to go to Sao Paulo, I have to go and meet your girls.
You have to come.
Well Aline, there is no doubt that the future of girls in Me Empodera will be brighter because of your commitment to improve their lives. As we close, you need to know that your entire GSMP family is so proud of you. We love you so much. Please remember you have an army of sisters, as you said, from many different countries and brothers too that believe in you, respect you, and want the best for you. You are our strong sister who has always taught us so much about life.
Thank you so much, Piña. Thank you so much for you, for the families of GSMP. I need to tell, I already, I already said this so many times, but when we started in GSMP 2016, 17, actually, sorry, Dr. Sarah said in the early beginning that we didn't know, but we were, would be a family in the end of the program. We would call each other sisters and I thought, ah she’s crazy. I’m not this kind of person. I’m not this kind of person. I'm not given this way. And now I have a family and being today talking with you, it's so much pleasure for me. Thank you so much for you and this opportunity, thank you.
Thank you for being the way you are, Aline. Thank you so much for sharing your time with us. Now go keep working with those beautiful little girls and creating more Alines in Brazil. We need more Alines in this world. Thank you, sister. And we also like to thank our audience for tuning into this special edition of the Strong Women, Better World podcast. Until next time, remember when women are strong, the world is a better place for everyone.