Brazil's women strike gold again
LONDON - Brazil's women produced a dazzling comeback to win Olympic volleyball gold on Saturday, prompting a sneak preview of what life might be like in Rio de Janeiro in four years time.
When Fernanda Rodrigues arched her back and delivered the final blow to defeat a deflated United States, the roof of the Earls Court area was almost blown off by an eruption of joy.
Forget Wembley, where the south Americans lost the soccer final earlier in the day to Mexico, the rambling west London arena, under threat from the wrecking ball, was the place to be if you were wearing the famous yellow and green of Brazil.
"This is a wonderful feeling, it's amazing," said coach Jose Guimaraes, whose side were atrocious in losing the first set 25-11 before storming back to repeat their final victory over the United States in Beijing four years ago.
"Last year we lost every match against them. The U.S. were favourites but after the first set we were really wonderful."
He could even afford a little dig at the soccer team's failure to land gold.
"Soccer in Brazil is not a sport, it is a religion, so volleyball is the first sport in Brazil," he said.
As hundreds of delirious Brazilians samba danced in the stands, top scorer and glamour girl Jaqueline Carvalho milked the applause and tearful libero Fabiana Oliveira kissed the court the American team watched on sadly.
Inspirational U.S. captain Lindey Berg, together with four more of her team, also fell at the final hurdle in Beijing and she will not get another chance after announcing that it was the end of her international career.
"I still believe we are a gold medal team," she told reporters, wiping tears from her eyes. "I've no regrets, I've given my heart and soul to three Olympics. It's been incredible but I'm done now."
Coach Hugh McCutcheon, who led the U.S. men's team to gold in 2008 is also moving on.
"This is the end of the road for me here in the international arena," the New Zealander told reporters.
"It has been an unbelievable journey and I feel privileged to have been able to do the things I have done and work with the athletes that I have done."
It had all looked so good for the Americans when they raced through the opening set in which Brazil were a shambles.
But when Brazil clicked into gear, there was no stopping them. Roared on by most of the 15,000 crowd, they took the next three sets 25-17 25-20 25-17 with Carvalho and Sheilla Castro spiking to devastating effect and captain Fabiana Claudino an oasis of calm in the hot-house atmosphere.
Brazil were already celebrating midway through the fourth set before Rodriques got the party started for real.
The journey to gold was anything but straightforward for Brazil. Defeats by South Korea and the U.S. in the group phase brought criticism back home and after scraping into the last eight they survived six match points before beating Russia.
"We started the Olympics really bad but once we started to play our Brazilian volleyball I knew things would be different," captain Claudinho said. "We fought point after point.
"People were criticising us but we carried on, we trusted ourselves, and the only objective was to win the medal and show the people who didn't believe in us."
She spared a thought for the soccer players.
"I'm sad for them," she said. "I know that football comes first in Brazil, but I'm happy we got the medal first."
Japan won the bronze medal after a 3-0 win over South Korea. Brazil can make it a double celebration on Sunday when the men face Russia in the final. (Additional reporting by Toby Davis; Editing by Alison Williams and Michael Holden)