Yes, Brazil took gold at the Olympics. Not in one that is being watched by millions of people around the world, but in a competition that, while attracting far less attention, is also of great importance. It is the International Physics Olympiad, considered the mother of all scientific competitions.
The person who virtually climbed to the top of the podium was Caio Augusto Siqueira, 17, a young talent who belatedly turned to physics. Since he was a child more focused on the exact sciences, he was even torn between the subject in which he won the gold and mathematics.
“I started to realize that, with physics, in addition to being able to understand a little more, I felt more pleasure. You know when you’re studying something and you don’t understand, it’s just that you get pleasure from wanting to understand what’s going on? I felt that in physics”, he explains.
Born in Ribeirão Preto (SP) and resident of Santo André (ABC São Paulo), Caio wanted to go to high school at ColégioObject, responsible for two other Brazilian gold medals at the Olympics, in 2011 and 2012.
In the 1st year, the young man took the gold at the Junior International Science Olympiad. “In the scientific Olympics community, he was our Italo Ferreira”, says, excited, Ronaldo Fogo, professor-advisor at the Special Courses in Physics of the Goal, comparing Caio to the surfer who won the podium this Tuesday (27).
The student took advantage of his ease in the subject to dedicate himself exclusively to it, studying higher education books and in other languages. Before the pandemic, it was common to find him at school studying works in English, Russian and French late into the night.
At home because of the pandemic, Caio had to adapt his study method, which sometimes reached 16 hours a day, and started to use WhatsApp to teach. “They tried a lot [responder às dúvidas] and they started to set a time to clear up doubts because there was no way to answer everything at the same time”, he says, between laughs.
In the beginning, the period at home was one of sadness and dissatisfaction, and the young man says that loneliness hit him, making him even want to stop dedicating himself to physics. “After a while, I felt the pleasure of being alone, studying in my corner. In the end, I even think it was better for me.”
The discipline won gold at the Olympics –the seventh in Brazil–, held remotely between 17 and 24 July. The Brazilian delegation met in Campina Grande (PB) to take the test, monitored by a Lithuanian jury. In all, there were 380 students from 76 countries.
For five hours, competitors had to demonstrate their knowledge of modern physics and quantum mechanics, in the theoretical test, and electricity and behavior of electronic devices, in the experimental test.
“The test is designed perfectly so you don’t understand what’s going on,” says Caio, who says it took him 1h30 just to read the exercises. Medals are divided by score ranges, so it’s possible for more than one person to win a silver or bronze medal, for example.
According to Professor Fogo, Brazil has a tradition of bronze and has already won some silver in the competition, created in 1967. Gold, however, is extremely rare. “You can’t start preparing months earlier. In my experience, it was a short time for Caio to be so well prepared.”
The virtual edition of the International Physics Olympiad made it impossible for young people to come into contact with some Nobel Prize-winning researchers, who are used to giving lectures and taking pictures with young people, as well as with scouts from major international universities.
Caio doesn’t rule out graduating in Brazil, but says his dream is to study abroad – at least two other Brazilian gold medalists went to the US. For now, he is thinking about studying computer science.
The young man, who defines himself as extroverted and closed at the same time, says he doesn’t see himself as the smartest in a room, but rather as the one who will chase after and try to improve. And that’s what the gold medalist needs to do with geography, his least favorite subject, to pass the grade. After all, the school year isn’t over yet.