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Former South Carolina tennis student-athlete Ricardo Acioly has played and coached in the Olympics. Recently, he helped carry on the great tradition of running with the Olympic torch in his home country, and now the Brazilian native is excited to share the Olympic experience in a new capacity, as a spectator and a father.
“In every Olympics, the torch tours around the host country before it gets lit up in the stadium at the opening ceremonies,” Acioly said. “A few people get a chance to carry the torch, and since I have a history in the Olympics as a player and a coach, and because of what I’ve done in my tennis career and what I’m doing now with my coaching career and my involvement in sports, I was honored to get a go at this. So I was pretty happy, and pretty honored. It’s not something that happens every day.
“When you are carrying the Olympic torch, you are the only person in the world doing that. I thought that was quite cool to be able to do that and knowing what it means.”
Acioly played doubles for Brazil in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea, and was later a coach for Brazil at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
“One of my best memories (as an athlete) is of the opening ceremony,” Acioly recalled. “It was really, really neat to be there with everyone. At that time, we didn’t have all the communications like we have now with email and mobile phones. Being in front of the whole world at that time was unreal. The atmosphere was something I had never felt before. Walking in with the other athletes and representing my country was very special. That experience is something I will cherish my whole life.
“The experience in Sydney was also amazing. It was a little different because I was outside of the court. In Sydney, the team stayed in houses as part of the Olympic Village. Our house was quite successful because we got three medals from the athletes that stayed in the house. We had two judo guys winning a couple of silver medals. The women’s basketball team won the bronze medal, and their coaching staff was together in the same house. We were bragging a lot about our house.”
Acioly enjoyed participating from both perspectives. He also enjoyed watching a lot of other events during his Olympic experiences.
“I watched track and field,” Acioly said. “When the whole Ben Johnson story happened, I was there. I saw volleyball and basketball. You try to see the sports that you like a lot, or you end up meeting the other athletes and you get a feel for what they do, so you want to watch.”
I enjoyed being able to represent Carolina all over the U.S. ... The whole atmosphere of being a student-athlete and being involved with other athletes from other sports was also pretty cool.
After a standout playing career for the Gamecocks from 1983-1985, Acioly is a well-recognized figure in the tennis community in his home country. He founded the R3A Sports Management company, continues to coach young players at a couple of tennis schools near his home in Rio de Janeiro, and he is the director of the ATP 500 event, which is the largest tennis tournament of its kind in South America. Among the many young players he has coached includes current Gamecock women’s tennis sophomore student-athlete Ingrid Gamarra Martins, who earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors last year.
“It’s great to be so involved in tennis,” Acioly said. “There were quite a few schools interested in Ingrid since she was 12 to 15 years old. I saw her grow up. She is doing quite well. I came back to visit South Carolina a few years ago. I had a chance to meet (women’s tennis head coach) Kevin Epley at that time, and I already knew (men’s tennis coach) Josh Goffi. The way they are running their programs is a lot like what we do and where our players want to go. They’re very professional. That’s why I thought it was a good fit for Ingrid.”
Acioly and teammate Richard Ashby led the Gamecocks with 22 doubles wins in 1984, and although an injury curtailed some of his playing career, he has many good memories of his time as a Gamecock.
“I had some misfortune while I was there because I tore a ligament in my knee,” Acioly said. “But I enjoyed being able to represent Carolina all over the U.S. I embraced the college scene. The whole atmosphere of being a student-athlete and being involved with other athletes from other sports was also pretty cool.”
Acioly noted that his time at South Carolina helped him prepare for his life after college.
“It helped me grow as a sportsman and as a person,” Acioly said. “That was key for my development on the court and off the court.”
Now that the Olympics have come to his home country, Acioly is proud to be able to witness the games with his nine-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.
“I have tickets to go somewhere every day,” Acioly laughed. “Obviously I will go see the tennis. I’m going to see basketball. I’m going to see volleyball and beach volleyball. Brazil has a good chance to get some medals there. I want to see some of the radical BMX biking. I want my kids to see some neat stuff like that. Gymnastics, too. Obviously we’ll see track and field as well. I want them to catch some spirit. The Olympic spirit is so great.
“It is something I will never forget for my whole life. It’s the first time that the Olympics have come to South America. Normally, all of the athletes from Brazil have to travel abroad to compete in the big arenas. Now the big arenas are here. That is something that probably won’t happen again for a long time.”