Rio Olympics: Brazil took beach volleyball gold early on Friday in front of a raucous home crowd that refused to be quietened by the driving rain, as Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt defeated Italy 2-0 to win the nation’s first gold in the sport in 12 years.
In both sets, the Brazilians fought back after Italy’s Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo took early leads, but the power of Cerutti at the net and deft spikes by Schmidt ultimately took the match 21-19 21-17.
World champions Brazil have lived up to their billing as favourites throughout a thrilling tournament in Rio, drawing on the energy of sell-out crowds at a venue that when the home team was not playing often struggled to fill.
Schmidt was instrumental in the final, turning the tide in the second set as he placed the ball all over the court and left the diving Italians with frequently nothing but handfuls of sand.
As the whistle went to crown Brazil champions, Cerutti ran over to hug the front row of the cheering crowd that he has called their “third player,” almost disappearing into their midst.
“The difference in this Olympics has been the crowd.. They’ve been at our side through difficult moments,” Cerutti said, his eyes welling up with tears. “Winning here on Copacabana is incredible…. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
The Italians accepted they had been well beaten.
“They are the best team in the world. Today we tried everything but they were better,” Nicolai said.
Before the final, the Netherlands’ Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen beat Russia’s Konstantin Semenov and Viacheslav Krasilnikov 2-0 to take bronze, their country’s first beach volleyball medal, in a tight match.
Brouwer and Meeuwsen appeared unfazed at their first Olympics, using a clinical attack to prevail 23-21 22-20. Unlike the final, the arena was only half full.
Meeuwsen effectively countered the towering six-foot 11-inch (2.10 metres) Semenov at the net, often drawing the big Russian out wide where his block attempts bounced out of play.
The Russians were left to rue two wasted set points in the first, as the Netherlands went on to take that set before asserting their dominance in the second.
“That first set they were leading but even when we were behind we kept fighting, kept playing aggressive and taking a lot of risk and I think we were rewarded,” Brouwer said.