RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazil got off to a rough start in Olympic judo on Saturday after local favorite Sarah Menezes suffered a shock defeat and went home without a medal, dashing hopes of an early triumph for the host country.
To make matters worse, Menezes was visibly in pain as she dislocated her elbow and spent several moments lying on the tatami after she lost to Mongolia’s Urantsetseg Munkhbat in the repechage round, before slowly leaving the arena in tears.
Menezes, who won gold in London four years ago, was seen as a strong contender to win the women’s -48kg category.
But the world No. 4 in her weight class struggled to gain much traction all day. She edged past Belgium’s Charline van Snick in her first match, before losing to 17th-ranked Dayaris Mestre Alvarez of Cuba on a single penalty in an otherwise scoreless match in the quarter-finals.
Despite the loss, the raucous crowd at the Carioca Arena 2 was unwavering in its support as they chanted “Ole, ole, ole, Sarah, Sarah”, danced in the stands and waved the Brazilian flag.
“Nowadays she’s more known than in London so maybe the competitors have been studying her, so it’s not surprising,” said Rogerio Soares, a 49-year-old IT manager who came to watch judo for the first time.
“I‘m very surprised with Argentina winning the gold medal, but for us from South America we are very proud.”
Argentina’s Paula Pareto won gold - the first ever in judo for her country - besting South Korea’s Bokyeong Jeong with a waza-ari throw. Japan’s Ami Kondo and Kazakhstan’s Otgontsetseg Galbadrakh took bronze.
“For me it was really important to win here because this is our neighboring country and many members of my family and many friends, many Argentinians, could be here to share the emotions with me,” Pareto told reporters.
“To win with so much family around was much nicer.”
Brazil is placing high hopes on its judo team to boost its medal haul in Rio after it took home four in the sport at the 2012 London Games.
The hosts and powerhouses France and Japan are the only countries fielding a full team of 14 judokas.
Brazilian Felipe Kitadai, who took bronze in London, also finished without a medal on Saturday, losing in the repechage round in the men’s -60kg.
Reporting by Chris Gallagher; editing by Ken Ferris