Robson Conceicao said he felt like he was still in a dream after he became the first Brazilian to win Olympic boxing gold on Tuesday in front of an exhilarated Rio crowd.
The man who sold vegetables and popsicles on the streets as an impoverished child is now a national hero after he defeated Frenchman Sofiane Oumiha on unanimous points in a thrilling lightweight final showdown.
The 27-year-old, who previously said that growing up he once feigned an arm injury so he could get hospital treatment and then used the bandages to tape his hands for boxing training, was a deserved winner after another day of judging controversy in Rio.
“My life has changed with this, this is an incredible moment in my life,” he told reporters.
“I had a very difficult upbringing so this medal is not only a success for myself but a success for my family and all those people who took me to training, ever since I was a young boy.
“I am an Olympic champion so my life has changed for ever. It was an amazing crowd… an amazing day.”
Brazil had only ever won one silver and three bronze boxing medals before Conceicao’s heroics and he said the title was a gift to his daughter, who will be two on Friday.
“I will tell her that she was my biggest inspiration and that I wanted to give her the biggest gift that I could give her,” he said.
Each Conceicao punch had been greeted with a cacophony of noise, against a backdrop of chants aimed at the Frenchman, 21, of “you’re gonna die!”
It was the first time at the Games that the 9,000 capacity RioCentro Pavilion 6 had been packed to the brim and they nearly took the roof off.
The first round was a cracker, as the pair went for it from the first bell, with the home fighter the busier of the two men as they traded heavy hits.
The electric atmosphere was closer to a football match—thunderous chants of “Brazil! Brazil!”—and the crowd were on their feet from the off, dancing, jumping and thirsting for Oumiha’s blood.
Round two was closer, with the young Frenchman forcing Conceicao on the backfoot, before he would swiftly snap back.
Oumiha held the centre of the ring in the third and final round and held firm when the Brazilian invaded his space.
But the Frenchman was having trouble getting clean hits behind Conceicao’s steady guard and the crowd reached a deafening crescendo as the bout reached its conclusion, and they counted down the seconds on the clock, convinced Conceicao had made history.
Conceicao grew up fast hawking his meagre wares with his grandmother in the city of Salvador, in Brazil’s north, knocking on car windows of drivers to sell them melting popsicles.
He paid tribute to the raucous crowd that filled the arena with a blaze of noise and yellow and blue colour, and to the people back in his home state who raised him in the most trying of circumstances.
“It was an incredible feeling to represent the whole of Brazil,” said Conceicao.
“Now I need to relax and wake up from this dream that I am experiencing and carry on boxing for the Brazilian national team and head to the next Olympics.”
Bronze went to Cuba’s Lazaro Alvarez—a semi-final victim of Conceicao’s—and Otgondalai Dorjnyambuu of Mongolia.
Oumiha was largely an unknown quantity heading into Rio and admitted the Brazilian was the better man on the day.
Asked whether he felt more pride or disappointment at taking home silver, he replied: “A bit of both. But obviously as the time goes on I’ll realise my good fortune and I’m really proud of my silver medal and winning it for France.”