Brazilian volleyball star Gabi: 'Brazil have something that makes them unique'

The Tokyo 2020 silver medallist is enjoying the best moments of her career after winning the European Champions League and being named the best player in the tournament. In an interview with Olympics.com, Gabi spoke about her team’s prospects for this year’s Nations League and World Cup, as well as her dreams for the next Olympic Games. 

By Virgílio Franceschi Neto
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

One of the most well-known volleyball players at the Tokyo 2020 Games, Gabi has had an exceptional career. From her hometown of Belo Horizonte to the Brazilian national team, the striker has accumulated a long list of achievements.

The last of these came just days ago when she won the European Champions League with Istanbul club VakifBank. She was also named the player of the tournament. 

VafikBank had already won the Turkish Cup, the Turkish Championship, the Turkish Supercup and the Club World Cup this season, making it a stellar year for the Brazilian superstar. 

Still to come this year are the Volleyball Nations League and the World Championship - the first tournaments for a team in a state of renewal, with their eyes already set on Paris 2024.

Olympics.com (OC): Is this the best moment of your career? Do you feel like you are the best in the world?

Gabi: There’s no doubt I feel like I’m in the best moment of my career. Today, at 28-years-old, I feel much more mature and experienced. I still have a lot to learn but many people have asked me whether I feel like I'm the best player in the world today. I don’t consider myself to be the best player in the world. I think it’s crazy to say that because we have great players like Paola Egonu and Jordan Larson. So to be considered the best in the world, I would need to reach an even higher level.

There’s a lot I can improve. I’ve enjoyed a really good season, I achieved a lot after Tokyo… but I think I still have to establish myself and have more good seasons to reach the level of these players. My focus is to improve by one per cent every day, so I will be the best version of myself every day.

Gabi #10 in action for her club, Vakif (Turkey), in 2022.
Picture by Milad Payami

OC: Were you surprised to be named the MVP of the Champions League, in the same tournament as your future teammate Paola Egonu?

Gabi: Honestly, I was really surprised, I didn’t expect it… it was very emotional. It was a dream to win the Champions League, I wasn’t expecting it but my goal was just to win the match. 

I was really surprised that Egonu didn't win because, despite not claiming the title, she scored 39 points in the final and had an incredible championship. For me, Egonu is by far the best player in the world, physically and mentally…

She’s truly a unique player. I think over the next few years she’ll be the best player in the world. It’s hard to stop her - you can only do it when she makes a mistake, so much so that she made eight mistakes in that game and they were all attacks. We couldn’t block her… she’s really unstoppable.

OC: Is there something in your game that you would still like to improve?

Gabi: I always say that I have to improve everything a little bit. Over the past years, my big objective has been to establish myself a little bit more as a striker, on attack and to help the national team and my club more. 

I think this year I did better. I’ve always had difficulty blocking as I’m not that tall, despite the fact I jump a lot. Technically, this is what I think I need to improve. I think my serve has improved a lot, receiving the ball and my backcourt game has always been easy for me. 

I've always thought that to play for any team in the world you really need to be on a higher level - a percentage point more - everything makes a difference.

Gabi Guimarães of Brazil, during the Volleyball Nations League of 2021.
Picture by Milad Payami

OC: In Tokyo, some people didn't believe in the Brazilian team and they still won silver. What was the secret of the team's strength?

Gabi: There’s no doubt that in Tokyo we showed the strength of the team. People judged us a lot, they didn’t believe we could make it to the final against the USA…

But I always say that Brazil won gold in Beijing and London because of the team. We don’t have a player like Egonu for Italy or Bošković for Serbia, or individuals who can carry a team to a final or championship. 

So Brazil has something that makes it different - in the team as a whole. We are going through a process of renewal with new players, but once again I don’t believe Brazil will rely on one player during this Olympic cycle.

OC: Do you see yourself as a leader of the team?

Gabi: I think so, because from a young age I’ve had the opportunity to experience a lot with the Brazilian team. However, there are others such as Macris and Carol who will continue after Tokyo. 

But there is an important process the new team members will have to go through, to show that the strength is in the team not the individual... There will be a time of renovation and new faces coming in, but it’s certain that we’ll come with the same strength, dedication and determination.

OC: Which countries do you see as favourites for the Volleyball Nations League (VNL) this year?

Gabi: The top dogs are always the United States. They have 14 good players, so if one doesn’t play well the other comes in and has the same quality. I would also include Italy, Serbia and China. Then there’s Poland who have Wolosz returning, which makes a great deal of difference to their team… The Netherlands have also shown they have great quality and I can see the evolution of Turkish players, particularly with their head coach Guidetti who, in my opinion, is one of the best in the world. 

So I wouldn’t say there's only one favourite, I think there will be a lot of surprises and I can’t guess who the finalists will be. I think we’re in for a very nice surprise.

OC: What do the Olympic Games mean to you?

Gabi: It’s a dream come true. I always dreamed about playing at the Games. I have competed at two editions and it’s a magical moment… I had the opportunity to fulfil my dream and win a silver medal. 

Now my dream is to become an Olympic champion and I hope to achieve that too.

Gabi Guimarães of Brazil, during the Volleyball Nations League finals, in Rimini, Italy, in 2021.
Picture by Milad Payami

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