AOTM September Michele Santos Brings Brazil into Wushu’s World Spotlight


When Michele Santos fell in love with wushu as a teenager, little did she dream that she would someday be performing her best routine in front of one of the world’s most famous sport leaders, the President of the IOC, Thomas Bach. But this is how her story did indeed unfold last July at The World Games 2022 in Birmingham, USA where she won a proud bronze changquan medal for Brazil, the highlight of her career.


Adding to the dramatic win, Michele was invited to represent the Americas as part of a small group of athletes meeting with Bach to chat with about their sport afterwards. As an athlete who truly dedicates her life to wushu, Michele works hard to achieve her personal goals – one of which is to become the best female wushu athlete in her country — but also to promote and elevate the sport in Brazil, a nation which fosters a strong community that has long played a central role in the development of wushu in the Americas.


A Late Wushu Start

Michele born in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, and since has lived there with her family.  “I discovered wushu when I was in high school,” she says. “There was a small performance at my school where I was blown away by wushu, so it was love at first sight.  I started to practice wushu when I was 15 years old, so compared to other athletes I started in the sport much later.  But that was not a problem for me, it was an incentive.  I always knew this was the path I would follow. At first I had a little difficulty memorizing and coordinating the sequences of movements, but over time this challenge became more and more fun.  And that’s when I discovered that wushu would be something forever in my life.”


Michele’s first wushu competition took place in 2007. “At the time,” she recalls, “my basics teacher saw a great potential in me to be an athlete, and I accepted the challenge.  The competitive scene in Brazil at that time was in a big growth, so I had several training partners that I could look up to and keep evolving.  What made me grow the most as an athlete was always having a very strong vision in my mind and heart where I wanted to go in wushu, and why I wanted to get there.  A sincere heart continues to be my biggest motivation to keep growing always, and never deviate from that path.”


A Step Up to Continental Championships

Michele’s first international competition was in 2012 at the Pan American Championship, Mexico-Monterrey, and by this time she was seasoned and primed from her national experience, going in with confidence. “For my first international championship I got a great result for the Brazil team — 1st place in jianshu and 4th place in changquan.  I felt extremely happy, because I was competing against good athletes and even with little experience in bigger championships I was able to fulfill my mission with myself and with my team as well.”

Four years later these continental championships would be a special, different, and bittersweet, experience. “In 2016,” Michele recalls, “I competed in the Pan American championship in Lubbock, Texas in the USA.  I decided to enter and compete in memory of my father who died in 2015. He was a soldier in the Brazilian air force, and when I went up on the podium in 1st place and the anthem of Brazil started to play, I bowed with a salute in respect and honored the memory of my father who passed away at work.  He is one of my great inspirations.  And that medal and result went to him.”


Evolution and Growth

Wushu subsequently inspired Michele enough on her life path to pursue a career in sports, majoring in physical education at university in Brazil and then moving to China in 2017 to pursue her master’s degree at a sports university. Things changed fast. She entered the BRICS Games in Guangzhou and for the first time competed against the world’s top athletes. Michele says, “The BRICS Games helped mark my history as an athlete. I got very significant results, and it was the first time that I was on a podium with two international powers in the sport (China and Russia).  It just gave me more fuel and confidence, and even when you are not the big favorite in competitions, when you work hard and correctly, you can get great results.”

The year continued to hold significant milestones for Michele, and deep challenges — including her first experience competing in a World Wushu Championships. She recalls, “I went to Russia for my debut in the 14th world championships in Kazan, and I felt it was a difficult, but in retrospect, necessary experience.  In 2017, I had moved to Beijing to start my master’s degree at the sports university.  These two events took place very close together, and dealing with the change of country, training, and being away from my family was very difficult.  This directly affected my performance in competition and also psychologically.  An athlete who is psychologically shaken is certainly his or her own worst opponent in competition.”


While Michele was not ultimately satisfied with her performance in Russia, she says the experience was both life-changing and valuable. “The Kazan World Championships helped me learn to better prepare myself for life’s adversities,” she says. “This gave me strength so that at the next world championship in Shanghai, even in the face of adversity, I would be psychologically stronger and mentally armored.”

Two years later Michele would come to Shanghai for the 15th World Wushu Championships, and she would have a far different experience. “The world championship in Shanghai was very special for me,” she says, “I felt I did a good job and I’d been evolving more and more to compete in international competition.  That year I was living in China, and I had to live and learn great lessons in order to evolve as an athlete.  It wasn’t easy, I really needed to prove myself as a more mature and competent athlete.  That year I was the last athlete to get the spot to compose the Brazilian team.  My faith in God and commitment to training and competition came from the bottom of my heart.  I knew that the world championship is a very tough competition, where the best from each country meet.  However, I ended my games with my head held high and knowing that I worked hard.  I was still sure where I wanted to go in this sport, and certainly very satisfied with my result.”


Triumph at The World Games in Birmingham

As the years of training and competing evolved Michele into a mature wushu athlete, the Covid pandemic hit, and there was no way for her to know that her greatest achievement lay just ahead. Persevering through the pandemic, Michele would be chosen to represent Brazil at The World Games 2022 in Birmingham, USA. Here she stepped into the world spotlight on the changquan carpet, and overcoming many obstacles, emerged as the bronze medalist standing on the podium alongside Indonesian silver medalist Nandhira Mauriskha and top champion Xiaoxiao Lai from China. None other than the President of the IOC, Thomas Bach was in the audience watching.

It was a dramatic moment for Michele. She says, “The World Games will certainly be a competition that will mark my history as an athlete most strongly. I say the World Games was a “test of faith.”  With two weeks to go before the trip, doing intense training I suffered an injury to my knee ligament.  At first I felt very frustrated and afraid of not being able to compete and even being out of the competitive calendar that year.  But God is very kind!  I got full support from my physiotherapist Diogo Valverde, my coach Márcio Coutinho, and my training partner Gabriel Nakamura.  These people were my guardian angels to give me the confidence to rehabilitate and compete without having time to recover 100%.”

“I visualized myself many times on that podium,” Michele continues. “My faith took me to that competition even though I was injured with something different.  When I entered the venue I felt that my mind and body were ready.  I was able to put all my feelings into my movements during my performance, I really expressed my happiness.  When the result came out and I saw that I had won the bronze medal, I hugged my coach in tears.  When I got on the podium, I felt that everything I was going through, the difficult moments of the injury, was an ordeal to go further, a complete surrender to my dreams.  And that regardless of the difficult moments I can never surrender and always fight my good fight.  And that God never leaves me.  I send my congratulations to all athletes, especially the female athletes.  You are amazing and strong!”


As the excitement continued, Michele was invited by IWUF to represent the Americas as part of a small group of athletes meeting President Bach outside the venue. She and fellow athletes from Europe, Asia and Africa chatted about wushu, sports and the Olympics, as cameras clicked madly capturing the moment. Michele says “The presence of Mr. Thomas Bach at the World games wushu competition was and profound significance to our sport.  Undoubtedly, the desire for wushu to become an Olympic sport is something that all of us, from athletes and coaches, want to see realized.  And I’m sure one day wushu will officially be in the Olympic Games.”


Wushu Family

Being a member of her national Brazilian team, traveling to events, and having an international wushu family holds special meaning for Michele. “In Birmingham the competition was very pleasant, and the organizers of the event were very gracious.  I was able to meet great athletes, and it was for sure a great exchange of good energies and experience. I feel grateful to be there representing athletes from the Americas. “


“Traveling with the Brazil wushu team is always a very good and fun experience.  We have a united and focused team, so whenever we need support, the athletes and coaches are there to help us.  It’s great to be united with people with purpose. When I returned to Brazil after the World Games I felt great joy from my teammates and coaches.” But she adds, “This victory is not mine alone.  It’s a victory for the Brazilian wushu team.  And I’m sure that more athletes from the Brazil team will do great things in competitions.  We have been working hard every day to increase our performances and technique. We want to leave the mark of the Brazil team wherever we go.”

The most recent continental wushu event, the Pan American Championships, took place right after The World Games, in Brasilia in 2022. With energy still high from Birmingham, Michele was happy to add to the energy of the event and showcase wushu in her own country, winning a bronze and silver medal. “It was a really cool competition,” she recalls, “as I competed at home, in Brasília.  The team from Brazil certainly showed its potential and the vibration of the Brazilian fans made our events more and more exciting.  I feel very grateful for all the support from the Brazilian confederation, coaches and athletes.  I was happy with my result and I’m still training hard for the nationals that will be in October.”


Wushu Life


We asked Michele what she likes best about her specialties, changquan and jianshu. “What I like most about these two styles,” she replies, “is the way they both require your body to move.  Allowing me to move elegantly, gracefully and with great precision.  Changquan in particular is my favorite, it’s what I feel best suits me and my personality.  Through it I feel that I can get my feelings out through my movements.  And the sword always teaches me how important technique is.  I believe wushu is more about body skills than brute strength.  In my opinion, changquan and sword complement each other, so it’s impossible not to like these two styles.”

Michele also credits her coaches with helping her achieve her wushu dreams. “My coach Márcio Coutinho is a very important and special person in my athletic career.  And someone I have deep respect and admiration for.  Always inspiring me in my way of seeing and understanding wushu. Márcio, during my career, also introduced me to other teachers who had a great influence on the development of my wushu and helped me to become the athlete I am today — teacher of the children’s team Carlos Alberto, the coach of the Brazilian team Luiz Carlos, and also my teachers in China Duan Yong Bin (段永斌) and coach Wudong (武冬).  They all have made a great contribution to my wushu. An athlete never wins a competition alone.” And, she adds, “My family also always tries to help me as much as possible.  For sure, my father was a great supporter. Without my family, coach and training partners I wouldn’t be able to follow my dreams in wushu.”


Looking Ahead

Michele graduated university with a degree in physical education in Brazil and she’s now waiting to finish her studies in China.  “Currently,” she says, “I work with wushu on social media.  My training partners and I have an Instagram channel called Gaishan Wushu, where we teach and pass our experiences as athletes to people who want to learn wushu.”

Her goals? “I seek to solidify myself as the best female athlete in my country,” she states. “And get a good ranking to compete in a world championships and fight for a medal.  This is my biggest goal for the near future.  After finishing my career as an athlete, I want to continue contributing to the sport of my country, teaching other people.  This goal would be a great honor for me.  After all, wushu has given me great gifts in this life, passing on what I learned is a form of gratitude.”


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