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Sporting Brazil’s best

What does it take to be a winner? Brazilian photographer Claudia Jaguaribe tries to answer that question by shifting her lens away from competitions and instead focusing on the everyday routines of Brazil’s most talented athletes.

An exhibit of Jaguaribe’s photos was featured at a recent commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Portuguese arrival in Brazil, which was held at the IDB’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.

Jaguaribe chose the sports theme when she first took portrait photos of Brazilians participating in the 1996 Olympic games for a leading Brazilian newspaper. She says she was not attracted by the spotlight placed on the competition itself, but rather wanted to look into the physical and emotional work that goes into building an athletic career.

“This type of theme had never been done before, and it needed to be done since Brazilians are increasingly important in world sports,” says Jaguaribe. In an abrupt departure from her previous work, which had been predominantly fashion photography, she contacted most of Brazil’s top athletes and many promising newcomers and asked to take photos of them in noncompetitive settings.

One-on-one. Even when the subject is team sports, Jaguaribe’s photos examine the athletes as individuals. “I was more interested in how each was able to develop as people, how each came into his own, on a human level,” Jaguaribe explains. In her photos, she made a point of distinguishing between athletes of the past and present. Today’s competitors were shot while practicing their particular sport. In contrast, retired athletes were featured in relaxed studio poses.

Icons from the past. Brazilians are well-known for their athletic talent, particularly in sports such as soccer, basketball, and volleyball. Pelé in soccer, Oscar Schmidt in men’s basketball, and Hortência de Fátima Marcari Oliva in women’s basketball are just a few of the athletes who made their mark around the world, opening doors for new generations of Brazilian athletes.

Soccer remains the dominant sport in Brazil, and in the years since Pelé became a household name many other players have inspired international followings. Established players like José Roberto Gama de Oliveira, known as Bebeto, and up-and-comers like Felipe Jorge Loureiro are among the growing roster of Brazilian soccer superstars.

But the success of Brazilian athletes in other sports, and particularly in the Olympic Games, has broadened the variety of sports pursued by this country’s youth.

Tennis, a sport that gained exposure in Brazil in the 1960s because of Maria Esther Bueno (a Wimbledon singles and doubles champion), is enjoying new popularity thanks to players like 23-year-old Gustavo Kuerten, who won the 1997 French Open.

Brazilians are distinguishing themselves in an ever-wider number of Olympic sports such as track, gymnastics, and beach volleyball. Jaguaribe’s photos feature Soraya Ida de Carvalho, a 21-year-old gymnast who represented her country at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, and Sandra Tavares Pires, a 26-year-old Olympic gold medalist in women’s beach volleyball.

The IDB photo exhibit is only a sampling of the many photos Jaguaribe shot of Brazilian athletes, all of which were published in the recent book Atletas do Brasil. The book features 194 sepia-toned photos of professional and aspiring athletes ranging from a 14-year-old gymnast to an 86-year-old Jujitsu instructor.

Jaguaribe believes that the struggle to succeed as an athlete has universal appeal because it echoes an essential aspect of all human endeavor. “Sports is a natural means for acquiring self-confidence and perseverance in any circumstance,” she said.

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