Gymnastics: Brazil flips over homegrown gymnasts

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - For Brazilian gymnast Arthur Zanetti, silver is now worth more than gold.

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That is because the 2012 Olympic champion on men’s rings earned the silver in final on Monday before an ebullient Brazilian crowd that could hardly keep quiet during his sublime routine.

“I am happier than I was in London just because I am competing at home,” said the 26-year-old Zanetti, who became the first Brazilian gymnast to win an Olympic medal in 2012, on his Olympic debut.

Brazil has now won two silvers and a bronze medal before the mostly Brazilian crowd in the Rio Olympic Arena with one day of competition left.

Diego Hypolito and Arthur Mariano took silver and bronze in the men’s floor final on Sunday night, marking the first time ever that two Brazilians were on the podium in an individual Olympic event.

But the Brazilian fans do not just dwell on those who finish on the podium. They have fallen for the diminutive 16-year-old Flavia Saraiva, who finished fifth on the balance beam final, only 0.2 of a point behind superstar and bronze medalist American Simone Biles.

The eighth of eight gymnasts to compete on beam, the 1.33-meter tall Saraiva had a few wobbles but stuck her landing, sending the Brazilian spectators into a frenzy. As she waited for her score, the crowd serenaded her with the song “Pais Tropical”.

Zanetti was also the last of eight gymnasts to mount the rings, his head practically buried between his enormous sculpted arms as chants of “Brazil, Brazil, Brazil” rang through the arena.

The Brazilian fans could hardly suppress their cheers and several people tried to quiet them down with shushes as Zanetti calmly went through the crosses, the most crucial moments in the rings competition.

With a score of 15.766, he lost to the first-time Olympian Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece, who scored an impressive 16.0 before him. But the crowd roared most loudly for Zanetti as he rose to the podium. While the flags from the three medalists’ countries were raised, the Brazilian held his hand to his head in a salute.

Zanetti is hoping that the success of he and his team mates before thousands of Brazilian fans at the Games and millions through television will make the sport more popular.

He is also hoping it will bring more money for athletes and training despite the worst economic recession in decades.

“I hope (the funding) will be better, and we will fight for that to make it happen,” he said.

Additional reporting by Tatiana Ramil; Editing by Alison Williams