Isaquias Queiroz, with ‘third lung’ but one kidney, a star hope for Brazil in Olympics

Star canoeist Isaquias Queiroz dos Santos has just one kidney after an accident he suffered during childhood, but it hasn't stopped him from becoming the Olympic hosts greatest hope for glory.

Brazilian Isaquias Queiroz Dos Santos celebrates after taking the gold medal in the Men's C1 canoeing 200m final during the 2015 Pan American Games at the Welland Flatwater Centre in Welland, Canada on July 14, 2015. Usman Khan / AFP
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Brazilian Olympic canoeist Isaquias Queiroz dos Santos may only have one kidney, but he paddles like a man with three lungs and two arms of kryptonite.

Queiroz, 22, is aiming for a Brazilian record of three gold medals in the C1 and C2 canoe sprints at the Rio Olympics starting August 5.

Given his amazing physical prowess, few here would bet against him – if anything, a childhood accident that left him badly injured seems to have made him faster.

“I lost a kidney when I was 10 after falling from a tree,” he told AFP at a training session in Rio de Janeiro. “A year later I started canoe-kayak. People thought I’d never make it, that I was handicapped, but I showed the whole world that there was never a handicap.”

“I joke with friends that they must have put a third lung in me during my kidney operation,” he said.

“I’ve never let anyone beat me and leave me thinking after that I’ve lost because I only have one kidney. No, the contest is equal. What’s bad though is that when someone loses against me and says afterwards, ‘Oh no, I lost to a guy with only one kidney!’”

Queiroz may look relaxed but he is also fiercely focused on the challenge ahead.

“Everyone tells me I am one of Brazil’s best chances to win gold medals,” he said, “but I don’t see that as pressure – more like a goal. Every day that people tell me they hope I’ll win I feel more motivated and ready to train even more to win these three medals.

“That would be historic, something no one’s ever done in Brazil,” he said.

Over the last three years, Queiroz has collected three golds and three bronzes at the World Cups in Duisburg, Moscow and Milan.

But what gives him added confidence is a change to the schedule in Rio that will mean wider gaps between races, taking place August 15-20 on the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon.

According to Brazilian media reports, the scheduling changes were made under pressure from the Brazilian Canoe Federation to benefit their star competitor – a tactic that might be an unofficial perk to being the Olympic host.

“Paddling in the C1 1,000 metres and in the C2 1,000 metres one day after the other is very tiring,” Queiroz said. “The change gives me a chance to win three competitions.”

The third is the C1 200 metres race which trainer Jesus Morlan is also preparing him for.

“I discovered I have potential at this distance and I won a bronze in it at the World Cup in Milan last year,” Queiroz said.

As he aims for Olympic glory, Queiroz looks back on a 2015 of contrasts.

“The best moment was when I got gold in the C2 1,000 metres with Erlon Silva and the gold in C1 200 metres in Italy. I surprised all my opponents,” he said. “Then I was chosen as Brazil’s athlete of the year for 2015. That’s something – the recognition made me very happy.

“The worst moment though was when I flipped my car over while going to fetch my brother at the airport,” he recalled. “I went off the road and had an accident. Luckily I didn’t get a scratch. I was able to return to training and concentrate on my goals for the Olympics.”

He’s also been a leader of protests by fellow Brazilian canoe and kayak athletes against their national federation, particularly over financial arrangements.

But this year could be the year when all the bad memories are put aside and he becomes known not only as the man with three lungs – but three medals.

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