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Brazilian athletes ditch Paris 2024 Olympic dreams to help flood victims

Less than three months after the Paris Olympics, Brazilian athletes from the devastated southern state of Rio Grande do Sul are giving up their dreams of competing and staying home to help rescue victims of severe flooding.

Rowers Evaldo Becker and Piedro Tuchtenhagen, who were to compete in the lightweight double sculls category in the qualifying phase for the Olympic Games, decided to abandon their sporting quest and join volunteers who rescue stranded neighbors, find them shelter and distribute aid.

“I said: Piedro, I can’t do it anymore,” Becker told Reuters by telephone.

“The Olympic Games are the dream of our lives, but today we cannot see ourselves leaving our state,” Tuchtenhagen said.

Their training was disrupted by the floods that swept the streets of the capital Porto Alegre after the Guaiba River burst its banks. So they started helping distribute donations and rescue families and their pets.

READ | The Brazilian government wants all local football tournaments to be suspended due to massive flooding in the south

“I didn’t even think about it. It was my last chance to go to the Olympics. I was excited. But the flood waters took away my dream just as it took lives,” Becker said.

Swimmer Viviane Jungblut, who had already qualified for the open water race, also dropped out and said on social media that she would commit herself to the rescue and recovery operations.

World and Olympic surfing champion Italo Ferreira went to Rio Grande do Sul to assist in the rescue efforts. The coach of the Brazilian Olympic men’s judo team, Antonio Carlos Kiko Pereira, also joined in the rescue work.

The athletes remained in Rio Grande do Sul even as the Brazilian Olympic Committee devised a plan to evacuate them from the state to train elsewhere in Brazil for the qualifiers.

Former Olympic athletes also volunteered to help. Gymnast Daiane dos Santos, who competed in three Summer Games, and former Olympic swimmer Nicholas Santos, holder of the world record in the 50-meter butterfly, joined the rescue efforts.

Unprecedented flooding in Rio Grande do Sul has taken a toll of 113 lives, while 146 people remain missing in the disaster that has driven more than 300,000 people from their homes, civil defense officials said.

Guaiba River levels fell overnight, but rain started again on Friday and more rain is forecast in the coming days, raising fears of wider flooding.