Not far from where judo is taking place at the Olympic Games is the "City of God" favela. It's one of the most dangerous places in Rio de Janeiro.
It's also where Brazilian judoka Rafaela Silva is from.
On Monday, Silva – propelled by a boisterous crowd that erupted with excitement anytime she made a move on the mat – was nearly flawless while competing in the women's 57kg (125.5 lbs) Olympic tournament. She won all five of her matches without giving up a single score to earn Brazil's first gold medal of these Games.
The morning started with Silva quickly throwing her first-round opponent, Germany's Miryam Roper, to the ground twice for a pair of waza-aris within the first 46 seconds, giving Silva the immediate victory.
Her next match was against the No. 2 seed in the tournament, South Korea's Kim Jan-Di. Silva scored another waza-ari and held on to earn the win. She then won her quarterfinal bout by waza-ari as well.
Silva's toughest challenge came in the semifinals, where she was pitted against 2012 silver medalist Corina Caprioriu of Romania. With neither judoka able to get a score in regulation, it went to a golden score period. On multiple occasions, the crowd exploded in cheers when they thought Silva had scored the winning throw. In fact, at one point, the referee briefly awarded a waza-ari to Silva before it came off the board. After seven minutes of competition (four minutes of regulation, plus three minutes of golden score time), Silva executed a perfect counterattack on Caprioriu, slamming the Romanian to the ground for the winning waza-ari.
That moved Silva into the final against Mongolia's Sumiya Dorjsuren, the world's No. 1 ranked fighter in the weight class. About a minute into the match, Silva got on the board first – yet another waza-ari – and once again stood her ground for the remainder of the fight to hold on for the win.
After clinching gold, an emotional Silva made her way into the crowd to share the moment with the Brazilian fans in attendance. They congratulated Silva and draped a flag over shoulders before she made her way back toward the field of play.
Brazil is one of the strongest countries in judo, particularly on the women's side, and was expected to do well at these Games. But they ended the first two days without a medal despite the initial optimism.
"I hope my medal now will open the door for Brazil to win many more medals," Silva said after her win, according to the Associated Press.
Silva's title is even more impressive when considering the depth of the 57kg field, which returned all four medalists from London: Japan's Kaori Matsumoto (gold), Caprioriu (silver), France's Automne Pavia (bronze) and Team USA's Marti Malloy (bronze).
Matsumoto was unable to defend her gold medal after getting knocked out in the semifinals. She battled back to win the Bronze Medal Match against her friend and training partner Lien Chen-Ling of Chinese Taipei, who earlier in the day upset U.S. medal hopeful Malloy in the Round of 16.
Matsumoto – who was the only Japanese judoka to win gold in 2012 – gave her country its fifth bronze medal this year, one for each weight class that has been contested so far. Her compatriot, Shohei Ono, would ultimately capture gold in the men's 73kg (161 lbs) division to give Japan its sixth medal in six divisions and its first gold.
Malloy's loss was one of the most surprising developments of the day. The 2015 Pan American Games champion entered the tournament as the 3-seed but lost to Lien on penalties in her first match.
"I definitely wanted to improve on my last medal," Malloy told TeamUSA.com. "I knew that I was capable of beating anybody in my division because I have beaten most of them before. So it was all about having a good mentally focused day. I felt really focused before I went out and had a lot of energy and gas in the tank. It was just those small little things that I needed to do to control the fight better."
Women's 57kg results
Gold: Rafaela Silva (BRA)
Silver: Sumiya Dorjsuren (MGL)
Bronze: Telma Monteiro (POR)
Bronze: Kaori Matsumoto (JPN)
In the men's 73kg division, Shoehei Ono decimated the field with ippons all day long on his way to a gold medal – the first for Japan in this year's judo contests.
Prior to Ono's win, Japan had won bronze medals in each of the five other weight classes that had been contested this week. For most countries, that kind of consistency would be impressive; in the nation that created judo, though, golds are the standard of success.
The Japanese judo team in 2012 only brought home one gold medal (from Kaori Matsumoto), and for the first time ever, the men's team did not win a single gold. It was a result the country was clearly disappointed by after winning a combined 12 golds at the previous two Olympics. Ono's victory ties the country's gold medal count from London and puts them one medal shy of reaching their seven-medal total from that year.
Team USA's Nick Delpopolo matched his result from London by reaching the quarterfinals in his second Olympic appearance. After winning his first two bouts, Delpopolo subsequently lost his quarterfinal match and moved into the repechage for a shot at a bronze medal. A loss to Hungary's Miklos Ungvari in the repechage ended his hopes of a medal.
After he competed at the London Games, Delpopolo was sent home for failing a drug test, in which he tested positive for marijuana – the result of inadvertently eating a pot brownie. He said before coming to Rio that this Olympics was about redemption for him.
"I had a good day," he told TeamUSA.com. "This is the top of the mountain. If I can compete at this level going through what I’ve gone through, I think I can do it again."
Men's 73kg results
Gold: Shohei Ono (JPN)
Silver: Rustam Orujov (AZE)
Bronze: Dirk Van Tichelt (BEL)
Bronze: Lasha Shavdatuashvili (GEO)