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Rio 2016: Brazil celebrates its Olympic winners and Serginho takes centre stage

 
Lausanne, Switzerland, December 27, 2016 - On the day of the closing ceremony, it was the grand finale of the Rio Olympic Games and one of the most emotional moments of those incredible 17 days for the hosts: Brazil’s volleyballers won the long-awaited Olympic gold medal in the volleyball temple that is the Maracanãzinho.

The ecstatic fans in the arena, which was a sea of yellow, did not want to stop celebrating, while the Brazilian players celebrated out on the court. At the heart of it all was a true legend: 40-year-old libero Serginho, who became the hero of millions of Brazilians on that very special day.



Even football world cup winner Neymar, watching from the stands, bowed in appreciation of the libero, who added a second Olympic gold medal to the one he won in 2004.

“The feeling with the first gold medal and the second one is the same,” he said. "I remember when Marcelo Negrao served for the victory in Barcelona 1992 and I was a boy and left home screaming, completely crazy. In Athens 2004 I was the champion, in the same team as such talented players as Mauricio and Giovane. After this I played two finals and won two silver medals. Now I'm here with the gold.”

Sergio Santos, or Serginho as he is also known, went through an emotional rollercoaster ride together with the fans in the Maracanãzinho Arena. His team were on the brink of crashing out of the ‘group of death’, Group A, following defeats to eventual bronze medallists the United States and the team they went on to beat in the final, Italy. However, a 3-1 victory over France saw them progress to the quarterfinals as the fourth-placed team.

“A day before the match against France, I talked to the other guys and said I was feeling like I was in intensive care and I needed to be alive. I asked them to help me be alive. All of them have another Olympic cycle, but not me and I really wanted to win gold one more time.”

Remarkably, everything came together for the hosts in the knockout round. First up were their South American rivals Argentina, who they overcame 3-1. They then outplayed Russia 3-0 in the semifinals. This was revenge for defeat in the 2012 Olympic final, when Brazil threw away a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2. Brazil had also lost in the final at the 2008 Olympics (against USA), so there was much concern that 2016 could produce a third silver medal in a row.

However, cheered on by the frenetic home crowd, the hosts showed nerves of steel against Italy, fending off set points before going on to win 3-0 (25-22, 28-26, 26-24). It was the first straight-set victory in a men’s Olympic final since Sydney 2000, when Yugoslavia beat Russia 3-0. A third Olympic gold medal (after 1992 and 2004) sees Brazil overtake USA in the all-time medal list. The Brazilians are now second behind Russia/Soviet Union (4 Olympic golds).

As well as MVP Serginho, the focus was also on coach Bernardo Rezende and his son and setter Bruno.



“We deserved this medal so much. It's much more special to do it at home, it's a magical moment. Everything we went through and now we are Olympic champions. This generation was said to be chokers. After so many silvers, now we're gold. It's something huge for me and our family. My father and I went through so many frustrations together. He really deserved this,” said Bruno Rezende.

Wallace de Souza, the leading scorer with 147 points, was also instrumental in the success. In the final he dominated with a match-high 20 points, followed by Luis Felipe Fonteles with 11, including the final point with his block against Ivan Zaytsev.

Rio 2016 Olympic Games - Men's volleyball final - Watch video.

Italy had to settle for their third silver medal, to go with three bronzes. The Italians also finished second in Atlanta 1996 and Athens 2004. They occupied the third slot in Los Angeles 1984, Sydney 2000 and London 2012. In the end, there were mixed emotions for captain Emanuele Birarelli: “We are upset because we could have played better. But we played great volleyball. We are the second best in the world and we have to be proud of that.” The Americans were also happy with their bronze medal, having recovered from 0-2 down to beat Russia 3-2 in a clash of two volleyball giants. The Americans were denied the opportunity to play for gold by a 3-2 semifinal defeat to Italy.



FIVB President Dr. Ary S. Graça F° was thrilled with the successful volleyball competitions in Rio: “As we look back on the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in the months and years ahead, we will reflect on these fantastic Games, knowing this was the time when volleyball confirmed its position as the ultimate family sport entertainment. Every Olympic Games is special in its own way. Rio 2016 was particularly special for us at FIVB. Our sport returned to its spiritual home and we leave with the honour of knowing that we have inspired generations of fans in all corners of the world.”

Iran could also be forgiven for feeling like winners: making their first ever appearance at the Olympic Games, the Iranians made it through to the quarterfinals. An equally large success was fifth place for the Canadian team, which survived the ‘group of death’ before losing 3-0 to Russia. Argentina also finished fifth, having suffered a 3-1 defeat to eventual Olympic champions Brazil.

The Brazilians’ superhero Serginho had just one wish at the end of the tournament: “Now all I want is to go home. I want to pick up my children from school. To go to a birthday party of my friends. To eat my mother's chocolate cake. And to be Serginho. This glory will pass and I will be a normal guy.” However, the man who is regarded as probably the best libero in volleyball history announced that he will continue to play professional volleyball for another two years. And then there would be just two more years until the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo

Roll of Honours, Olympic champion men
1964: Soviet Union
1968: Soviet Union
1972: Japan
1976: Poland
1980: Soviet Union
1984: USA
1988: USA
1992: Brazil
1996: Netherlands
2000: Yugoslavia
2004: Brazil
2008: USA
2012: Russia
2016: Brazil

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