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Brazil dream of home glory as Walsh Jennings aims to build on legend

 
Rio de Janeiro, August 2, 2016 – Brazil’s four teams are under no illusions about what is expected of the them at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games; double gold in front of 12,500 fans on Copacabana Beach, the spiritual home of the sport.  

Two gold medals would bring an end to a 20-year wait for a women’s team to top the podium and 12 since Brazil’s men won gold for the first and only time since the sport was introduced to the Olympic Games at Atlanta 1996. 

Two of the Brazilian teams ended the Netherlands 2015, FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships as world champions – Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas in the women’s competition and Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt in the men’s. 


Furthermore, Pedro Salgado and Evandro Goncalves, the other Brazil men’s team at Rio 2016, won bronze. Of the four teams at Rio 2016 only Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes missed out on the World Championships podium, but they did end the year as FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour champions, a title that Alison and Bruno also picked up. 

“I’m so excited,” Rio-native Pedro said. “I have never played in a venue as big as this stadium. It is a unique opportunity in my life. I just want to enjoy this moment and have fun.

“There were so many changes in these four years (since London 2012), but I was very focused in my goal to make it to the Olympics. I always kept between the best two teams from Brazil in the World Tour, so it was great to qualify for these Olympic Games, especially being a Brazilian, which means, I think, that’s it’s way harder than being from another country.”


If Brazil’s players and fans are already presuming that the gold medals are already theirs they may want to think back four years when Larissa and then partner Juliana Felisberta and Alison and Emanuel Rego went into London 2012 as reigning world champions. 

Neither side was able to add Olympic gold. Alison and Emanuel lost to Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann in the men’s final, while Larissa and Juliana won bronze. 

Walsh Jennings aiming for four

Four years ago Kerri Walsh Jennings added another Olympic gold to her collection as she and Misty May-Treanor topped the podium at London 2012, having done so at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, 

Since then May-Treanor has retired and Walsh Jennings is now playing alongside April Ross, who was on the other side of the net at Horse Guard’s Parade in tandem with Jennifer Kessy. 

They made their debut as a duo at the 2013 Gstaad Grand Slam and quickly found their best so by the end of 2014 they had won six golds in 13 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour tournaments. 

Last year was frustrating though as Walsh Jennings struggled with a shoulder injury that eventually needed surgery, but they began 2016 by winning the Rio de Janeiro Grand Slam and then added a further three golds to show that they are reaching their best at just the right time. 

“If we come out and show that we are the best then it will take care of itself,” Walsh Jennings said. “Playing in Copa(cabana) is amazing, the energy here, it absolutely elevates players. It will be amazing playing in front of such crazy, passionate fans., something that I think we all relish very much.”


Smedins back for more

At London 2012 Janis Smedins and former teammate Martins Plavins were one of just two Latvian medal winners, along with gold medal-winning BMX superstar Maris Strombergs, but at the end of the year they went their separate ways. 

Smedins teamed up with Aleksandrs Samoilovs in 2013 and they enjoyed instant success as they won the 2013 and 2014 World Tour titles. A place on the podium at the 2013 and 2015 World Championships eluded them, but they won the Klagenfurt Major Series a week ago to show that they still know what it takes to win a tournament. 
“Physically we feel really good and our game is getting better and better in every tournament and I think that it is the best practice you can have,” Smedins said after their success in Klagenfurt. “You need to show your best and have the confidence to play as good as you can.”

Euro-challengers

The Netherlands will feature two teams per gender, with the two men’s team having enjoyed success at the past two World Championships. Robert Meeuwsen and Alexander Brouwer won an unexpected gold at Mazury 2013, while Reinder Nummerdor and Christiaan Varenhorst won silver in 2015. 

Germany’s fourth seeds Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst appear the most likely pair to become the first European women’s team to claim an Olympic medal of any colour. They teamed up in 2013 and at the 2014 Shanghai Grand Slam they won their first World Tour gold together. 

Since then they have added six more World Tour golds and the 2015 and 2016 European Championships title. Their most recent gold medal came at the Klagenfurt Major Series just last week.


“I wanted to play and not just train at home and watch the matches on TV,” Ludwig said following success in Klagenfurt. “So it was definitely a good decision to come here and try and work on what we’ve been working home these last two weeks. 

“An Olympics is always different. It is a lot bigger and we just have to focus on what we do and try to leave everything on the court. Everyone is putting pressure on themselves, but you’ve got to fight for medals and not just have fun. If we play good, we can beat a lot of teams.”

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