In the women’s competition, Maria Voronina and Mariia Bocharova of Russia lived up to their billing as pre-YOG favourites by winning their three group matches without losing a single set. They subsequently conceded only one: in the round of 16 against Dutch pair Emi Van Driel and Raisa Schoon (2-1). In the final on 17 October, Italy’s Nicol Bertozzi and Claudia Scampoli ran them close, though the Russians eventually edged the victory over two sets (21-19, 21-19).
"We’re happy to win the gold medal here," said Voronina. "But we really liked the Argentinian fans at the arena. They supported us even though we are from another distant country. They really understand our sport and cheered all the athletes here, like true sportspeople do." The Italian duo were by no means disappointed to have lost out in the final. "We knew Russia were really strong, so silver still feels good to us," said Bertozzi.
But it was two of the traditional winter sports powerhouses – Norway and Sweden – that made the biggest splash in Buenos Aires. Norway’s Emilie Olimstad and Frida Bernsten claimed a surprise 2-1 victory against the USA’s Devon Newberry and Lindsey Sparks (18-21, 21-13, 15-9) to earn a well-deserved bronze. And no one was more surprised than Olimstad and Bernsten themselves.
"We come from such a little country, where beach volleyball is not such a famous sport, so to get the bronze here is amazing," said Olimstad. "We were not just born with skis under our feet. We can do more than that."
Her partner on the sand, Bernsten – who celebrated her 17th birthday during the tournament on 16 October – added: "When you come from Norway, no one expects anything from you, especially winning medals in summer sports. It’s all about winter sports there, so it’s fun to show Norwegian people that it’s possible to do a great job at the Summer Olympics too." While Norway’s podium finish was a shock, though, it was nothing compared to Sweden’s performance in the men’s tournament!
Sweeping to victory despite zero expectations
In a scenario that no one saw coming, Swedish pair David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig, who became extremely popular with the Argentine crowd, played their way to a gold medal. Having lost their opening group game to Germany, Ahman and Hellvig went on to comfortably win every one of their remaining matches, ending with a 2-0 victory in the final (22-20, 21-15) against Matthew Immers and Yorick de Groot of the Netherlands.
"We had no expectations of any this before coming here, let alone winning gold," Ahman said. "We started our tournament off with a loss [against Germany], then after that there were only wins. We even beat the Germans in the quarter-final. That’s when we understood that we could win something nice, because we learned from our mistakes."
One of beach volleyball’s most popular aspects is the element of fun for which it is renowned, and in addition to winning the tournament, Ahman and Hellvig claimed top spot on the entertainment podium. Thanks to their enthusiastic celebrations, they became firm favourites with the fans at Green Park. And Ahman did not let the pressure of the gold-medal match dampen his enthusiasm. After a string of blocks and aces he briefly danced to Jennifer Lopez’s Let’s Get Loud, much to the delight of the crowd.
"When I get in the mood I like to let loose a bit," he said. "Our sport is still a show in the end. The fans pumped us up a lot, and I love to give something back." His team-mate Hellvig added: "Apart from this gold medal, the thing we’ve loved in Buenos Aires is the crowd. It seems they liked us. It feels a bit weird to be shouted at by so many people in the stands who want us to wave to them and take selfies. We’re not really used to that."
The incredible local fans, who had been filling the stands to watch the volleyball tournament every day, finally got their reward when Argentine pair Mauro Zelayeta and Juan Bautista Amieva Tarditti clinched the bronze medal, beating Hungary’s Artur Hajos and Bence Attila Streli in straight sets (21-15, 21-15).