Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 12, 2016 – As the women’s teams battle in Rio for a spot in the Quarterfinals of the volleyball competition, Brazil, for one, can look back to four years ago for inspiration.
On August 11, 2012, Brazil recovered from a dramatic first-set meltdown to clinch the Olympic title with a 3-1 (11-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-17) victory over USA in front of nearly 15,000 fans at Earl’s Court in central London.
Up until that point, the Americans hadn’t lost a match and had dropped only two sets.
Brazil, by contrast, had barely made it to the knockout phase of the competition, qualifying one win (and one point) ahead of Turkey after suffering a 3-1 loss to the U.S. and a shocking 3-0 defeat to Korea. In the Quarterfinals, they edged past Russia 3-2 before overcoming Japan 3-0 in the semis.
Coach Ze Roberto (in his seventh Olympics -sixth as coach) celebartes Lodnon 2012 gold.
Brazil may have been defending champions with the legendary Ze Roberto in charge, but the United States – guided by Hugh McCutcheon, who led the U.S. men’s team to gold in Beijing in 2008 – were on a mission and it seemed like nothing would get in their way.
The U.S. had everything going for them: the No. 1 ranking in the world; a detailed and intense coach who had already won Olympic gold; Lindsey Berg, arguably the best setter in the world; some devastating spikers (Destinee Hooker, Foluke Akinradewo); momentum; and, perhaps above all, a competitiveness unmatched by any other team.
As one report said: "The Olympic gold medal had USA written all over it."
Perhaps they only lacked the one element the Brazilians had in spades: passion. The Brazilians fighting spirit comes from an emotionalism that goes a long way to countering any technical deficiencies in the team and when that passion kicks in, they are virtually unstoppable.
Fe Garay (left) and Jaqueline Carvalho with their London 2012 gold medals. They're both back this year to repeat the triumph in Rio 2016.
"I think that the power we had, the power we gave to each other gave us the result we deserved," Brazil captain Fabiana Oliveira commented after the final. "There are no words for this emotion. We love this, we live this both on and off the court."
McCutcheon said: "It hurts, and it should, because we’ve given our lives to win, and we didn’t."
After losing the first set, the Brazilians shifted their defence to stop the Americans’ strong attacks and ended up keeping Hooker, the United States’ star opposite hitter, from taking control of the game.
Hooker came into the final as the tournament’s second-leading scorer, with 147 points, but she scored only 14 against Brazil. She said later that Brazil had taken the game to another level after the first set.
Full house at Earls Court for the London 2012 final. It's been the same in Rio 2016 at the Maracanazinho every time Brazil play.
Brazil’s Fe Garay said it was a matter of calming down: "I think in the first set we were in too much of a rush and just wanted to win the gold medal as quickly as possible. We then calmed down and we were able to show what we can do."
Ze Roberto’s tactical adjustments combined with inspiring serving and digging (the Brazilians outdug USA 63-37), and the Americans’ failure to respond saw Brazil dominate the final three sets and retain their title.
"They were deciding the rhythm of the game; normally we do that," Berg said. "They're an emotional team. Once they get on a roll, they sure get on a roll."