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The London 2012 men’s artistic gymnastics rings final was nearing its conclusion when defending champion China’s Chen Yibing stepped out to perform his routine. Nicknamed “The Lord of the Rings” and an undefeated five-time world champion in the event since 2006, Chen had registered the highest score of the rings programme in the team all-around competition a few days earlier, helping his country win gold.
Exuding an air of invincibility, the Chinese gymnast produced a near-perfect display, which ended with him raising his arm in triumph and with the judges awarding him a score of 15.800. With just one competitor to come, another gold looked set to be his.
That competitor was Brazil’s Arthur Nabarrete Zanetti, who qualified for the final in fourth place. No sooner had Zanetti begun his routine than he had the rapt crowd gasping at his “iron cross” executed with complete stillness. Completing the rest of his taxing routine with the same absolute precision, Zanetti was rewarded with a gold-medal-winning score of 15.900.
The beaten Chen sportingly applauded his rival, while flag-waving Brazilian fans jigged in celebration, and not without good reason: at the age of 22, Zanetti had just won his country’s first Olympic artistic gymnastic medal of any description. It was a historic achievement that would earn him the title of Brazilian Sportperson of the Year.
The 26-year-old Zanetti, who hails from São Caetano do Sul in São Paulo state, has spent many years working his way to the top. Having also honed his skills in the floor and vault events, he made his world championship debut in 2009, finishing eighth in the rings final.
He won his first international gold medals at the 2010 South American Games in Medellin (COL), securing the individual title on his favourite apparatus and the team title with Brazil. In 2011 Zanetti finished runner-up to Chen in the rings at the FIG World Championships in Tokyo, his country’s maiden worlds medal in the event.
Another first came his way that same year as he won gold at the Summer Universiade in Shenzhen (CHN), with Zanetti then going on to collect individual silver at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara (MEX) and team all-around gold.
The Brazilian followed up his London triumph by winning a host of other international titles. Enjoying an especially productive 2013, he won the rings at FIG World Cup events in Doha (QAT) and Anadia (POR) before successfully defending his Universiade title in Kazan (RUS).
Another notable first came that October as Zanetti won the world title on his favoured apparatus in Antwerp (BEL). A further example of his influence on his sport came when the element that bears his name (“From hanging scale rear ways press to support scale”) became one of 16 new ones to be added to gymnastics’ Code of Points.
The following year he was named Brazilian Sportperson of the Year once more, while again finishing a world championship runner-up behind China’s Liu Yang in Nanjing (CHN), and winning golds at the Pan American Championships in Mississauga (CAN) and the South American Games in Santiago (CHI).
A further title came his way at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, when he scored 15.800 points to win the rings by some distance from the USA’s Donnell Whittenburg.
“Our sport is on the rise in Brazil. You can see that in the titles and results, and that’s what we’re achieving right now,” said the pioneering Zanetti. “I hope we can carry on at the world championships this year and next, and at the Olympics.”
He added: “All the athletes will be doing their very best in Rio. They’re all going to be trying to win gold. It’s also going to be great for us to see the Brazilian people enjoying the Olympic Games at home.”
Discussing his approach to competition, he said: “When it comes to dealing with pressure, you’re always looking for alternatives. I usually listen to music and I also like to read specialist books written by current and former athletes and coaches.
“When you walk into the competition area, you can’t think about how important it is. You just have to get up there thinking that you’re in a training session. You have to give everything and come away feeling satisfied. You can’t fall into a comfort zone and you always have to fight for your dreams.”