US settles for silver in women’s volleyball
LONDON – A second-straight volleyball gold inspired summersaults from Brazil. It brought tears to the United States.
The Brazilians turned Earls Court into a carnival with a 3-1 upset victory over the U.S. women in the final at the London Games on Saturday. As they danced into the medal ceremony, the team sang “The champion is back!” in Portuguese.
What a run up to Rio.
Brazil’s win ended an undefeated U.S. run through the competition and denied the Americans their first gold medal in the sport. It was a rematch of the Beijing Games final, which the Brazilians also won 3-1.
“First time we didn’t have any control in this tournament,” said U.S. captain Lindsey Berg, who sobbed afterward.
Brazil became the third team to repeat as gold medalists. The Soviet Union won in 1968 and 1972, while Cuba won three straight starting with the 1992 Barcelona Games. Brazil also won bronze in 1996 and 2000.
It was the third silver for the U.S. women. The others were in 1984 and 2008.
After Fernanda Rodrigues spiked for match point, Stars Fabiana Claudino and Sheilla Castro leapt into the official’s tall chair at the net and began dancing. Their teammates piled on the floor.
Then came the summersaults.
“I’m so happy, we’re double Olympic champions!” said Jaaqueline Carvalho, who led her team with 18 points in the 11-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-17 victory.
Olympic rookie Destinee Hooker and four-time Olympian Logan Tom both had 14 points for the United States.
It was the last match with the national team for Berg, a three-time Olympian who is retiring. The U.S. setter hurt her left Achilles earlier in the tournament but vowed nothing would keep her out of the gold-medal match.
“It’s more painful because I think we’re a gold-medal team, I really do,” she said.
The top-ranked U.S. women were the undisputed favorites coming into the London Games. But once the second-ranked Brazilians got going with a hard-fought 3-2 quarterfinal victory over Russia, they were unstoppable.
The United States took an early 11-4 lead in the first set on Hooker’s ace. Brazilian coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes shouted at his players to calm down during a timeout, but two straight kills from Hooker and Foluke Akinradewo’s block made it 19-7. Jordan Larson spiked for the set.
In the second set, Brazil bounced back to take an 11-6 lead on Rodrigues’ kill, sparking a thunderous ovation from the fans at Earls Court. Logan Tom’s spike tied it at 12, but Brazil scored six straight and took the set.
The Brazilians celebrated wildly after taking a 6-2 lead in the third. The United States narrowed it to 21-19 on Hooker’s kill, but it was as close as they came and Castro’s kill won the set.
With momentum now on the side of the Brazilians, Claudino’s kill gave them a 13-9 in the fourth. Thaisa Menezes extended it to 23-14 before Rodrigues’ match-winning swing for the gold.
The U.S. team was solemn as the Brazilian party erupted around them. Later, the team mustered smiles at the medal ceremony.
The team’s fans at Earls Court chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
“I’m proud of these girls. We worked really hard, we came into this final game undefeated. You can’t get any better than that,” Hooker said. “I think Brazil kicked it up a notch after the first set. A wonderful win for them.”
U.S. coach Hugh McCutcheon is also leaving the team to become the women’s volleyball team at Minnesota starting this fall.
McCutcheon had come over to the U.S. women’s team after leading the men on an undefeated run through the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But the victory came after unimaginable tragedy when McCutcheon’s father-in-law was murdered at a Chinese tourist attraction a day before opening ceremonies.
He said the loss didn’t diminish his coaching career with the national team.
“I feel privileged to have been able to do the things that we’ve done and been able to work with the athletes I’ve gotten to work with and the staff that we’ve had around,” he said. “It’s been unbelievable.”
The bronze medal on the women’s side went to Japan, which defeated South Korea in straight earlier Saturday.