Brazilian Olympic boxer Roberto Custodio grew up facing daily violence, including the murder of his father, in the Mare slum, or favela. And if it hadn't been for his transformation into a top athlete, he might have gone the same way.

"I saw that sport could give you a role," he said at his training base in Sao Paulo. "I wanted to be recognized as a boxer, not a criminal. And now I can win the Olympics in my own town."

Custodio, 29, got his break at Fight for Peace, a gym started by Briton Luke Dowdney in the Mare to offer poor youths lessons in boxing, martial arts -- and life.

The gym's neat, blue walls and tidy courtyard stand out in the warren of often poorly built, half-finished houses that make up the favela, home to an estimated 100,000 people, most of them working-class families.
     
Rio's international airport and the famed Maracana stadium where politicians, VIPs and tourists will watch the Olympics open on August 5 are nearby. But the Mare is a world apart, with areas more like a 'Mad Max' film than the shiny new Rio officials want to project.

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