Gustavo just lost 4-0 in the first round of the Olympic table tennis tournament to Jianan Wang, an unranked player who emigrated from China to the Republic of the Congo because he wasn’t good enough to make the Chinese table tennis team.
Due to his quick and shocking elimination, Gustavo becomes one of the least important athletes at the Rio Olympics. His participation in the table tennis tournament is a footnote in an event that kinda seems like a footnote itself: The tournament is held in one of the pavilions of Riocentro, a dimly lit, un-air conditioned convention center with rows of temporary bleachers. Tickets are 50 reals, or about $17.
And yet the crowd treated Gustavo like he’s Pele according to Rodger Sherman.
Maybe this is a testament to the impressive ability of the Brazilian people to make any event featuring a Brazilian athlete into a party. But I think it also provides a window into the beauty of Olympic table tennis, an event that makes superheroes out of very regular-seeming people.
Gustavo is 5’6 and weighs 140 pounds. He doesn’t have a weightlifters squat torso; he doesn’t have a sprinter’s elongated limbs; he doesn’t have a basketball player’s statuesque height. All of the table tennis players are in shape, but they just look like normal in-shape people.