Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 7, 2016 - With the first Beach Volleyball serve of the Rio 2016 Olympic here Saturday morning on Copacabana, there was something missing on the iconic beach in a city where the first-ever internationally-sanction event was held in February 1987.
Missing from the lineup of players competing in the fifth renewal of Olympic Beach Volleyball were Emanuel Rego of Brazil and Natalie Cook of Australia. Both performed at their highest level on Beach Volleyball’s “biggest” stage and accomplished something that no other competitor will ever match - playing in five-straight Olympic Beach Volleyball competition.
Emanuel did participate Friday evening in the Rio 2016 opening ceremonies as he joined fellow Summer Games Beach Volleyball medalist Sandra Pires as Olympic Flag bearers at Maracana Stadium. Other flag bearers were Marta Vieira, Ellen Gracie, Oscar Schmidt, Joaquim Cruz, Rosa Celia Pimental and Torben Grael.
Emanuel Rego (top left hand corner) and Sandra Pires (behind Emanuel) were Olympic flag bearers Friday at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games' opening at Maracana Stadium.
Cook made her “biggest” splash in the Olympics with Kerri Pottharst as the pair won the first-ever medal match in the Summer Games with a bronze win at the Atlanta 1996 event. Four years later on Bondi Beach, the Australia moved to the top of the podium by capturing the gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
From there, Cook ended her Olympic run with a fourth in Athens 2004 with Nicole Sanderson, and a fifth and 19th with Tamsin Hinchley at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Games, respectively. In total, Cook won 17 of 25 Olympic matches with here three partners highlighted by 9-1 record with Pottharst.
Cook started playing on the FIVB World Tour in 1993 as an 18-year old and placed sixth with Anita Spring at an international stop in Santos, Brazil. Her “curtain call” was in London with Hinchley as the pair earned their berth by winning the Asian Continental Cup berth. Cook and Hinchley lost to Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh of the United States (2-0 (21-18, 21-19) in their first pool play match followed by a pair of three-set losses to teams from Austria and the Czech Republic.
Playing in more FIVB World Tour events that any other women since the start of competition in 1992, Cook finished her 19-season career with a 503-299 match mark with her eight different partners (62.8 winning percentage). Cook compiled five gold medal finishes in her career with 26 podium placements and 42 "final four" finishes. Her greatest successes were with Pottharst as the Aussie pair compiled three gold medals, 19 podiums and 31 "final four" finishes.
Natalie Cook at the Prime Minister's Olympic Dinner at The Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on June 18, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.
It is hard to imagine if any player will ever accomplish as much on the FIVB World Tour as Emanuel, who ended his 23-season international beach volleyball career on Copacabana March 11, 2016. Emanuel was first in FIVB World Tour annual points in 10 different seasons with five different partners. He is the only male player to win three FIVB world championships with three different partners (1999 with Jose Loiola, 2003 with Ricardo Santos and 2011 with Alison Cerutti).
Emanuel and Ricardo are the only male players to capture three Olympic Beach Volleyball medals, including two together at the Athens 2004 (gold) and Beijing 2008 (bronze) Summer Games. Emanuel claimed his third Olympic medal with a second-place finish with Alison at the London 2012 Games. His Olympic match record was 21-5 with a 19-2 record in his last three appearances in Athens (7-0), Beijing (6-1) and London (6-1).
Emanuel captured two PanAmerican Games gold medals with Ricardo in 2007 and Alison in 2011. He has played in more FIVB-sanctioned events (257) and matches (1,549) than any other men’s and women’s participant. Emanuel has won more FIVB gold medals (78) and matches (1,227) than any other player on planet Earth. He has achieved more podium placements (156) and reached more “final fours” (174) than any other FIVB competitor.
The FIVB World Tour’s most outstanding player twice (2006 and 2011) along with being the best hitter once (2006), Emanuel was voted the top sportsperson five times (2005, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014) and most inspiration three times (2011, 2012 and 2015). Emanuel also teamed with Loiola to become one of the top teams on the American domestic tour in the late 1990s where he was named the circuit’s top first-year player in 1998.
During his career, Emanuel’s 152 Beach Volleyball event titles is the most in history, including 62 Brazilian domestic championships, seven American tour wins and three Brazilian King of the Beach crowns.
With Cook and Emanuel setting the “bar high” in playing in a handful of Olympic Beach Volleyball competitions, one wonders if the feat can be tied. Pablo Herrera of Spain and Kerri Walsh Jennings will be playing in their fourth Olympic Beach Volleyball competitions when play starts this weekend and one wonders if “five” is possible for both players.
Herrera is only 34, so Tokyo 2020 is a possibility for the Spaniard Walsh Jennings turns 38 August 15, so will she still be around in four years. That’s the question now, but for the time being, we’ll see have to miss seeing Cook and Emanuel on the sands of Copacabana, but visiting with the legendary figures on the iconic beach.