Future medalists?
Future medalists?
Paolo Manzo

SAO PAULO — Watch out William Tell wannabes: There’s a big group of archers training from dawn until dusk in the hopes of golden glory at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio.

What makes them different from any other athletes training for the Olympics? Well, just a minor detail: Until very recently, they had been wearing feathered headdresses and living in remote villages deep in the Amazon jungle. These particular athletes are young and motivated Indians who use bows and arrows on a daily basis.

This first-of-its-kind recruitment initiative was launched by a series of sporting groups and indigenous advocacy organizations. They scoured every village in the Amazon region to find the tribe with the best archery talent. They preselected 80 teenagers of numerous ethnicities, and three of them ultimately will be chosen to represent Brazil in the Olympic Games. They are all between 14 and 19 years old and have left their communities to train in Manaus, the capital of the Amazon state of Amazonas.

“They can shoot a guacamayo a regional type of parrot from 100 meters away,” the project promotors explain. “Our challenge is to mix their traditional style with the more modern Olympic sport.” With the Games approaching fast, Brazil has decided to tap its indigenous population — too often exploited in the past, as evidenced by protests among them to defend their rights. “If the Games mean that the Brazilians discover we exist, they are welcome,” says the father of one of the boys chosen to compete for the three spots.

“I hope to be one of the three athletes who will represent my country in the Olympics,” says Jardel Cruz, 16. “I would really like to win a medal, not just for me, but for my whole community.”

Other sports too

Cruz is one of the best, maybe even the best, among the 80 young Indians. The first present he was given as a child was a bow and arrow, and the coaches say he has a good chance to be chosen. The Amazonian tribes are happy that this opportunity has been given to them. As they said on national television recently, this project has been a very important step for them.

“Before, our aboriginal people were forgotten about,” Cruz’s father explains. “Today we’re observed better, from closer, and they value what we can offer them.” Marcia Lot, an archery specialist and member of the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation, says the initiative began in February and that the young Indians have shown “the wisdom of tradition.”

Since initially identifying the 80 athletes, there has already been a first screening. “They’ve made progress on their technical abilities, but more than anything we’re highlighting their talent,” says one of the trainers.

And it looks like this new recruiting approach isn’t going anywhere: Next year, the committees will be searching among Amazonian people for another discipline — kayaking. Athletes of the world, you have been warned.

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