Rafaela Silva is a member of a small league of judokas who are both World and Olympic champions. She is now a member of an even smaller group of judokas found guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs after the Court of Arbitration for Sport, on December 21, upheld a two-year ban imposed by the International Judo Federation in January.
It’s not clear whether Silva plans to carry on competing after her ban expires. If she does retire, it will be an ignoble end to a brilliant but erratic competition career.
Silva kicked off her international career superbly, winning the gold medal at the 2008 World Junior Championships, where she displayed perfect timing, sidestepping France’s Automne Pavia’s uchimata to score ippon in the final.
Her first senior World Championships followed a year later in Rotterdam. There, she lost to Japan’s Kaori Matsumoto in the quarter-final. A few months later she crashed out of the 2009 World Junior Championships in the first round.
Losing to someone of Matsumoto's calibre in the quarterfinal of a senior world event was certainly no disgrace. Losing to a virtual unknown in the first round of a junior world event was certainly surprising, to say the least.
This erratic pattern of competition highs and lows would grow to become a regular feature of Silva’s career.
At the 2010 Tokyo World Championships, Silva exited after the first round. But just a year later, at the 2011 Dusseldorf Grand Prix, she would defeat Matsumoto (by then a World Champion) in the final, to win her first senior IJF gold.
Later that year Silva made it all the way to the final of the 2011 World (Senior) Championships. Two months later, she would once again crash out in the first round of the World Junior Championships.
Silva performed poorly in the 2012 London Olympics, exiting after just two fights. A year later, in 2013, she would become World Champion.
There were massive celebrations in Brazil following her victory there. But at the 2014 World Championships, not only did she fail to defend her title, she didn’t even win a medal of any color. A year later, she did even worse, exiting after her first match at the 2015 World Championships. But in 2016, she would become Olympic Champion.
The celebrations in Rio were even bigger this time, for now she was both a World and Olympic champion. But in true Silva fashion, the following year at the 2017 World Championships she would lose her first match. She did it again at the 2018 World Championships, losing her first match.
Things were looking up for her in 2019 though. She won gold at the 2019 Pan American Games and shortly after that she won a bronze at the 2019 World Championships.
She seemed to be peaking for Tokyo 2020. However, this was not to be for she tested positive for fenerol at the Pan Am Games and was subsequently slapped with the ban and stripped of both her Pan Am gold medal and World bronze medal. And now, with her appeal rejected, she will not be able to compete in Tokyo next year.
While she might still have a shot at a few more World Championships, since they are held annually, her hopes of being a double Olympic champion are pretty much dashed. Silva is 28 years old now and by the time the next Olympics comes around, she will be 32.