Over the history of the Olympic Games a number of teams have reached such heights that they can only be described as incredible. Tokyo 2020 revisits the stories of these unforgettable teams and the star players that helped them light up the Olympic Games. In the latest part of our series, we look back at Brazil’s men's volleyball team who've dominated the sport since the 2000s.
How it started
On 26 July 1983, Brazil played an exhibition game against USSR, in the mythical Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro, in front of over 95,000 fans. No, we are not talking about a football game, but volleyball. Never ever had a volleyball game been played in this scale and in front of such a massive crowd. This match, won 3-1 by the locals, marked the real start of the love story between Brazil and volleyball.
In the 80s, a new style of play started to emerge in the South American nation, with players capable of attacking different type of balls, from different positions on the pitch. However, it took a few years before the international results followed for the men’s national team. The first big win was in Barcelona 1992. At that time world volleyball was dominated by Europeans - Italy and the Netherlands in particular. But Brazil surprised everybody by winning gold and from that moment, the South Americans slowly but surely started to dominate the sport.
However, one last element changed Brazilian volleyball for good: Bernardinho.
Coach of the women’s national team since 1990, he won everything possible and took charge of the men’s team on top of the women’s in 2001. After leading the team, he won two Olympic golds (2004 and 2016), three World Championships, two World Cups, three Champions Cups and eight World Leagues.
Brazil defeat Italy in the men's volleyball gold medal round.
The biggest win
It’s difficult to pick one win more important than another one, as Brazil had two decades of dominance. To give an idea, between 2001 and 2006, they played 20 international competitions, winning 16 of them, including two World Championships, five World Leagues, one World Cup and an Olympic gold medal.
But the 2016 Olympic gold, on home soil, was perhaps the most emotional. After failing to top the podium at the past two Olympic finals (Beijing 2008 and London 2012), the locals smashed Italy 3-0 (25-22, 28-26, 26-24). It was also the last title earned by the legendary coach Bernardinho.
His son, Bruno Rezende, setter and captain of the team summarised the feeling: "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.”
Gilberto Godoy Filho, aka Giba, was one of Brazil's greatest volleyball players. He describes his country's affinity for the sport and how a coach told him he should quit as a teenager.
The key players
Many players had an important role in the many successes of Brazil but Serginho, the libero, has a special place. He has four Olympic medals (two gold, two silver), the last one in Rio, aged 40, where he was also named Player of the Tournament.
Giba is another legendary player, who won everything possible: eight South American Championships, three America's Cups, eight World League titles, three World Grand Champions Cups, three World Championships, an Olympic gold medal and two silver medals. For almost a decade, he was considered one, if not the best player on earth. At 1.9m, his jump and his sense of the game were undisputed.
"Winning gold in Athens was the crowning moment of a period in which we won virtually everything – the World Championships, the World League, the World Cup – and then we finished it with Olympic gold, which is without a doubt the most important medal for an athlete. It’s the most important event. The dream of any athlete is to win Olympic gold,” he recalled at the end of his career.
Within the new generation, there are numerous impressive players, such as Wallace, who scored 20 points in the 2016 final, setter Bruninho, meanwhile Lucarelli and Lucas, are two extremely powerful attackers.
What happened next?
After Rio, the team continued their success.
They became 2017 World League runners-up, 2018 world championships runners-up and won the 2019 World Cup. Brazil, who have qualified for Tokyo 2020, will once again be one of the favourites of the tournament.
But the reigning Olympic champions have been placed in Pool B alongside Rio 2016 bronze medallist USA, 2019 African Champions Tunisia, Rio 2016 semi-finalist Russian Federation, 2019 Pan American Games champions Argentina and 2019 European Championship semi-finalist France.
Only the top four teams from each Pool will advance to the quarter-finals. Will Brazil join the likes of the USSR (1964/1968) and United States (1984/1988) as back-to-back Olympic champions?
The Olympic champions are counting on Bruno Rezende and Wallace de Souza to steady the ship after Brazil did not finish on the podium at last year's Nations League.