Brazilian women finally earn their gold

Aug. 23, 2008, 11:52 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) The wait for volleyball gold is over for the Brazilian women.

They can now move on from the disappointment of four years ago, when they left Athens without a medal despite having one of the best teams.

Led by Sheila's 19 points, Brazil beat the United States 25-15, 18-25, 28-13, 25-21 Saturday to win the Olympic gold and give the nation one of the few significant titles it has yet to win in the sport.

Paula Pequeno added 16 points and Mari 15 for the Brazilians, who won the title unbeaten after losing only one set.

"We went through very difficult times after that loss in 2004," Walewska Oliveira said. "But we never gave up, we knew we would have another chance. We worked hard to win this gold and now we can finally say that we are Olympic champions."

The players danced in celebration and then went for a victory lap as Brazilian fans at the Capital Indoor Stadium chanted "We are champions, we are champions." After the medal ceremony, the players held hands and yelled: "Thank you God."

To this day the Brazilians have a hard time accepting their semifinal loss to Russia in Athens.

Then, after winning the first two sets and losing the third, Brazil was up 24-19 in the fourth, only one point away from winning the game and reaching the final. But the Brazilians blew seven match points before losing the set 26-28 and eventually the tiebreaker 14-16. They then lost to Cuba in four sets in the bronze medal game.

"We are finally getting our coronation," Sheilla Castro said. "This gold comes as proof that we have a winning group. Yeah, we had some tough losses, and they hurt a lot, but now we got what we wanted and showed what we are capable of."

Brazil, the top-ranked team in the world going in, rolled undefeated through five preliminary pool matches before beating Japan in the quarterfinals and defending Olympic champion China in the semifinals.

Saturday's victory seals Brazil dominance in the sport.

The men's team will play the Olympic final against the U.S. on Sunday with a chance to win its second straight gold medal, and third overall.

The women's team earlier this year won the Grand Prix title for the fourth time in the last five years. It was coming off runner-up finishes in the last two world cups.

The women had never reached the Olympic final, but twice won the bronze - at the 1996 Atlanta Games and at the 2000 Sydney Games.

"It's still hard to believe this has happened," Walewska said. "I don't think we will fully understand the importance of this title until we get back to Brazil to be near our fans and celebrate with them."

Besides being the reigning Olympic champion, the men's team has won five of the last six World League titles. It has seven league titles overall, only one less than Italy, the most successful team in the competition.

Brazil also won the last two world cups and last two world championships, in addition to the silver medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

The Brazilians enter Sunday's final without a clear edge against the U.S., however, after losing to the Americans in this year's World League final in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil also does well in beach volleyball. The men have won four medals in the last four Olympics, including one gold, while the women have won five medals, being one gold. In China, the Brazilian men won a silver and a bronze at the beach.

The hype about Brazilian volleyball began in 1992, when the men's team won the nation's first team Olympic gold medal at the Barcelona Games with stars that included Carlao, Mauricio, Marcelo Negrao and Tande.