BEIJING (Aug. 24, 2008) – This missive might be somewhat rambling because it is late (or early, however you want to look at it) and there’s a lot to write.
Our women’s team played a good match against a very good Brazilian team and came up short. USA was the only team to even take a set off of Brazil in the Olympics. Jamie Morrison and I took a taxi out to the venue to see the 4th set. Our girls battled with them until the end. They should be very proud of the silver medal that they are taking home.
Now it’s the men’s turn. There is a very healthy rivalry between the USA and Brazil at these Olympics. It’s mostly in volleyball, but USA’s huge win over Brazil in women’s soccer was very hard to swallow for them. The rivalry in men’s volleyball has quite a history and it’s as intense as ever.
In the 80s the two countries were at each other’s throats often, but USA held the upper hand most of that decade. In the 90s I don’t think it was dominated by Brazil, but they probably beat us more than we beat them. After 2000 Brazil took off under coach Bernardinho’s leadership and they simply dominated the world from about 2001 until now. In fact, they dominated until the World League Finals a few weeks ago when USA beat them in the semifinals, denying them the World League Championship for the first time in several years.
During Brazil’s dynasty this decade there has really only been one thorn in their sides: USA. Off the top of my head, here’s my recollection of how it’s been…
In the 2001 World League Brazil lost one match—to USA in Colorado Springs. At the 2002 World Championships in Argentina Brazil lost one match on its way to winning it all—to USA in the first pool. At the 2004 Olympic Brazil lost one match—to USA at the end of pool play. (That win for USA needs an asterisk next to it because Brazil was not very interested in winning it. Bernardinho’s explanation for what happened—as told in his book Turning Sweat into Gold—is that he did not want to show us everything they had. He refers back to Brazil’s beating USA in pool play at the 1984 Olympics in LA, then losing to us in the gold medal match, as his rationale for not showing us everything they’ve got.) In the 2005 Americas’ Cup in Brazil, USA beat them in the final—their only loss in the tournament. At the 2007 Americas’ Cup USA once again beat Brazil in the final (they did not have their best team, but it was still a significant victory as the tournament was again held in Brazil). At the 2007 World Cup Brazil’s only loss came at the hands of the USA. Then came USA’s win a few weeks ago in Rio at the World League Finals.
And so here we are. Brazil is in a position to repeat as Olympic Champions. We are in a position to win USA’s first gold in indoor volleyball since 1988. There is a mutual respect between the teams (again, some of our players know some of their players from the pro leagues in Europe), but there is also no love lost either.
Brazil’s fans travel well—and they know how to sing. Just like tonight’s gold-medal match for the women, there will be plenty of green, blue and yellow in the stands. We beat them in soccer and beach volleyball, they beat our women tonight, and they do not want to lose again to us.
One thing I know is this: our team is ready. They deserve to be playing for a gold medal. USA will take the court today with confidence and will play their hearts out. They expect to have to battle against this team, but they also expect to win. Nobody knows who is going to win because neither team is that much better than the other. But our boys came here for a gold medal and they’re either going to get it or Brazil’s going to have to fight, kick, scratch and claw to deny us.