French pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie was reduced to tears on the podium Tuesday as Brazilian fans relentlessly booed the athlete, who won the silver medal in men’s pole vaulting.
On Monday night, Lavillenie was beat by Brazil’s Thiago Braz Da Silva, who cleared 6.03 metres to win gold in the event.
Da Silva’s win was a massive upset, as Lavillenie — the current world record holder — was expected to take the gold; but it also marked the host country’s second gold medal win of the Summer Games.
The hometown crowd was especially rowdy during the event, booing Lavillenie throughout his attempts on the vault. But the pole vaulter finally reached his breaking point after Brazilian fans continued to boo him as he accepted his silver medal Tuesday.
“I expected some whistles, and it would have shocked me, but I didn’t expect it to be so violent,” he told reporters later.
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Lavillenie sparked controversy of his own when he compared the crowd’s treatment to how the Nazi Germany crowd reacted towards African American track and field athlete Jesse Owens during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He later apologized on Twitter.
However, in a true show of sportsmanship, Da Silva was later seen comforting Lavillenie backstage following the medal ceremony.
Lavillenie later tweeted a picture of Da Silva comforting him writing, “No words.”
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach condemned the “shocking behaviour” of the crowd in Rio, calling the booing “unacceptable at the Olympics.”
But Lavillenie isn’t the first athlete to be booed at the games; in fact, the crowds in Rio de Janerio have been especially vocal during many sporting events.
U.S. soccer star Hope Solo was booed mercilessly every time she touched the ball in preliminary matches and the stadium eventually filled with chants of “Zika” whenever she kicked it up field in response to weeks-old tweets Solo sent about the Zika virus.
Russian athletes have also experienced their share of bullying during the games. Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova, who has a history of doping, was booed nearly every time she entered the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio after being tied to the Russian state-sponsored doping scandal. In fact, the entire Russian delegation was booed during the opening ceremonies.
But the Brazilians seem to pick and choose who they boo. For example, during a preliminary match for men’s basketball, the local crowd cheered on the Croatian team, but booed the Spanish team.
“Brazilian fans seem to be pretty egalitarian,” IOC’s director of communications Mark Adams said told the BBC. “They seem to be able to boo athletes from many countries. It’s quite difficult to work out why they might be booing one athlete and not another.”