BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil – The Brazilian Army is seeking a return to being a home of Olympic champions.
Its best medal hopefuls are in the modern pentathlon, a sport in which athletes must shoot pistols, fence with épées, freestyle swim, show jump horses and run 3,000 meters.
And Brazil has started to shine in the event. The favorite of the women’s division is Sgt. Yane Marques. The 27-year-old native of the town of Afogados de Ingazeira in the countryside of the state of Pernambuco is ranked sixth by the International Union of Modern Pentathlon.
Marques was discovered by military team coach Maj. Alexandre França during a regional biathlon (swimming and running) in the city of Recife, in the state of Pernambuco, in 2003. By 19, Marques was challenged to become a skilled swordsman, marksman and equestrian.
She mastered it all, and did so quickly.
Frenchman Sebastien dos Santos, Marques’s fencing coach, was impressed by her performance during his first few training sessions.
“Yane is very focused, as well as a quick learner,” says Santos, who also is coaching the U.S. team. “She made an impression on everybody, not just me.”
Just four years after taking up the modern pentathlon, Marques already has racked up a string of impressive victories, including winning gold at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro.
And that was just the beginning.
She won silver in the 2009 Modern Pentathlon World Cup Final, also held in Rio de Janeiro. In 2010, Marques came in second in the World Military Modern Pentathlon Championships in Prague in the Czech Republic and first at the Pan American Championships.
In 2011, she turned her attention to the Modern Penthathlon World Cup and, of course, the Military World Games, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro from July 16-24.
She has just placed fifth in the final series of the World Cup, in Hungary, after taking 17th in April, in Italy, and eighth, in February, in the United States.
Marques attributes her success to the training she receives from the Brazilian Army, which is why she’s focused on winning gold at the Military World Games.
“My goal for 2011 is the Military World Games,” says Marques, who said the army has led to her living a more disciplined life. “If I’ve managed to live and breathe the sport and to have the freedom to train my hardest, it’s because I’m in the military.”
“Being an athlete requires focus. I had that focus from the day I joined the military,” Marques adds. “I bring it to my training as well as my life.”
Marques also hopes to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London. In her Olympic debut at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, she finished 18th.
The Brazilian Modern Pentathlon Confederation’s program PentaJovem brought the world the rookie sensation from Rio de Janeiro: Juliana Domingues.
Domingues, 14, is the youngest pentathlete in South America. When she started the sport, her strength was riding a horse, but she quickly developed the other skills needed to compete for first-place finishes.
Domingues has an ambitious goal: compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“Every day I train, I think of the International Youth Olympic Games (in China) in 2014, and the Olympics in Rio,” she says. “I want to progress.”
The PentaJovem program is based in Recife and in Rio de Janeiro.
In Rio, about 50 young athletes are learning and practicing the sport at the Military Circle in the neighborhood of Deodoro.
The army has made significant contributions to Brazil’s Olympic achievements.
Brazil’s first Olympic gold medal was won by a soldier.
In the1952 Olympics in Helsinki Finland, Brazilian José Telles da Conceição won bronze in the high jump with a leap of 1.98 meters.
And where was he introduced to the sport?
At the Army Vocational School, where he was studying.