At the Copa: Brazil is making itself at home in beach v’ball
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The fans chant their names, wave their flags and do a little samba in their seats whenever the Brazilians take the sand at the Copacabana Olympic beach volleyball venue.
If it’s a lot of pressure for the hometown teams, they’re handling it well.
All four Brazilian teams advanced out of pool play at the Olympic tournament, and three won their first matches of the knockout round on Friday and Saturday. After a disappointing fourth-place finish as hosts of the soccer World Cup in 2014, Brazil’s other national sport has thrived on its hometown sand.
“It is not a pressure for us,” said Barbara, a Rio native, who with her partner Agatha beat China on Friday to reach the quarterfinals. “We are living the dream now. Inside our hearts is joy.”
Beach volleyball is a passion in Brazil, as much a recreational sport on the Copacabana shore as soccer or surfing or sunbathing. And that has led to Olympic success, with the country winning 11 of 30 total medals since the sport was added to the Summer Games in 1996.
So dominant were the Brazilians — and Americans, who have claimed nine medals — that quotas were created to limit each country to two entries (per gender) in the Olympics.
And when Rio de Janeiro won the rights to host the 2016 Olympics, it was only natural that the beach volleyball venue would be on Copacabana.
“I fell so lucky, so honored, as a first-time Olympian to be here in my home,” Barbara said. “I am so proud to be a part of this Olympic year at home.”
The fans appear to enjoy it, too.
With green and yellow shirts filling the stands and Brazilian music wafting over the security barriers onto Copacabana beach beyond, the Olympic venue has been shaking at times with the cheers for the four hometown teams.
Agatha and Barbara were the first to reach the quarterfinals, followed later on Friday by the defending world champions Talita and Larissa. Alison and Bruno reached the round of 8 by beating Spain on Saturday, and the party was only slightly spoiled when the No. 2 men’s team, Pedro and Evandro, lost to Russia.
Still, the crowd gave the Brazilians a standing ovation on their way off the court, though part of the crowd was certainly acknowledging the 21-16, 14-21, 15-10 victory by Russia as well.
“Here on Copacabana, they know how to play,” Russia’s Nikita Liamin said. “They know the good play, and they know how it is done.”
Two-time Olympian Ana Paula, who is working with the stadium entertainment crew in Rio, agreed. At one break in the match, she introduced American Randy Stoklos, a five-time world champion and volleyball hall of famer who played before the sport was added to the Olympics.
“We might have built this stadium, but the Brazilians really made this sport,” he said to a huge cheer.
“All of the Brazilians knew who he was,” Ana Paula said. “It’s because Brazil really, really loves beach volleyball. It’s because volleyball — it’s been in our DNA.”
Ana Paula said she thinks volleyball and beach volleyball have even surpassed soccer in her homeland — in part because of the soccer team’s much-lamented 7-1 loss in the World Cup semifinals. “We don’t talk about the World Cup,” she said with a smile.
By contrast, the beach volleyball players seem to be thriving under pressure.
“I don’t think we are going to see anything like that in volleyball,” said Bruno, whose uncle Oscar Schmidt is a basketball Hall of Famer and one of Brazil’s most celebrated athletes. “The crowd is so happy, so full of happy people.
And that’s been a boost for all of the players — even Brazil’s opponents.
Spain’s Elsa Baquerizo and Liliana Fernandez said they were excited when the pools were drawn and they knew they would be playing Agatha and Barbara.
“At the beginning, I felt like, ‘Oh, my God. The whole stadium is going to fall down on me,’” Liliana said after beating the Brazilians. “But we wanted to play them on Copacabana.”
The Spaniards had already clinched a spot in the knockout round, so they didn’t feel the full pressure of 12,000 fans rooting against them.
When Germany’s Britta Buthe and Karla Borger drew defending world champions Talita and Larissa in the playoff round of 16, their coaches tried to cheer them up.
“Everyone was saying, ‘Oh, it’s such a tough draw for you guys.’ But we were really excited,” Buthe said after the Brazilians eliminated them in straight sets.
“We would have liked it if we would have played for it and won. We weren’t able to experience it,” she said. “But still I think this is one of our best memories, even if it did end.”