Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 12, 2016 – Brazilian volleyball fans had plenty of emotion to contend with at the London Olympic Games in 2012. After being pulverised in the first set of the women’s final on August 11, Brazil roared back to clinch the gold, but in the men’s final on the following day, Russia went one better, overcoming the loss of the first two sets to steal the gold from Brazil.
Surprisingly, Russia’s 3-2 (19-25, 20-25, 29-27, 25-22, 15-9) victory gave them their first ever volleyball gold medal since the breakup of the Soviet Union in either the men’s or women’s competition.
Russia and Brazil had finished with identical 4-1 records in the group stage in London with Brazil beating Russia 3-0 (25-21, 25-23, 25-21) in the preliminaries. Brazil’s only loss was to the United States, 3-1.
Brazil bulldozed their way past Argentina (3-0) in the Quarterfinals and USA’s conquerors Italy (3-0) in the semis, while Russia overcame Poland (3-0) and Bulgaria (3-1).
Russia's ergey Tetyukhin celebrates his fourth Olympic medal in London 2012. Now going for a record fifth in Rio 2016.
The South Americans then cruised to a 2-0 lead in the Final and even had two matchpoints in the third set before Russia dug in and fought back. It was the first time a team had come back from two sets down to win an Olympic final.
Dmitriy Muserskiy turned into the match winner for Russia as he was moved by coach Vladimir Alekno to play as opposite starting from the third set and eventually amassed an Olympic final record points haul of 31 points.
"They won the first point and from the first point they put psychological pressure on us and played a very fast game," Muserskiy said. "But after the second or third set they began to get tired; that's when Russia began to pick up momentum. People were expecting and we delivered."
Brazil’s Wallace de Souza couldn’t believe what happened: "We came here to get the gold, but we got the silver. You train a lot for that every day, you don't believe something like that could happen. You're winning 2-0 and then you start feeling the pressure."
The Brazilians had to resign themselves to their fate. "We have to learn to live with these consequences," said Bruno Rezende, son of coach Bernardo Rezende. “We had the chance, but we had to show up and take the chances."
Coach Vladimir Alekno proudly shows his London 2012 after producing the magic that turned the final around.
Both teams cited Alekno’s tactical changes as the key to the match. At the start of the third set, the Russian coach moved the tournament’s top spiker Maxim Mikhaylov to wing spiker and Muserskiy to opposite.
"The team felt that I was confident and I wasn't going to go down without a fight and that's when they started directing everything towards me," Muserskiy said. “The team put their trust in me and it was the ‘last-chance saloon.’ We had no choice but just to go for it and the gamble paid off."
Both Russia and Brazil have lost in the Preliminary Round in Rio, but don’t write off these two teams just yet. Just as they did in London in 2012, they can still produce magic on the volleyball court.