RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil’s men and women beach volleyball pairs made winning starts in their hunt for gold on Saturday, drawing on the loud home support to beat their Canadian and Czech Republic opponents on Copacabana’s golden sand.
Brazil’s women gold medal hopes Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas recovered from one set down to win 19-21 21-17 15-11 against talented Czech pair who came close to upsetting the home script on the opening day.
Barbora Hermannova and Marketa Slukova appeared to have the momentum midway through the second set but at 10-10 the Brazilians took the lead to drag themselves back into the match.
A thrilling block from Bednarczuk at won them the second set sending the crowd into rapturous applause. In the deciding third set the Brazilians regained control.
“We knew it wouldn’t be easy,” said Bednarczuk, explaining that the excitement of playing in front of a home crowd on Rio’s famous beach had maybe caused them to lose a little focus.
After the first set “we were able to calm down a bit and put more tactics into play,” she said.
Earlier on Saturday, Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt beat Canada’s Josh Binstock and Samuel Schachter 21-19 22-20 to seal their credentials as gold medal favourites in the men’s tournament.
“It was incredible,” said Cerutti.
With beach volleyball one of Brazil’s favorite sports, particularly in Rio where nets dot the coastline, the local athletes were fired up by an enthusiastic crowd waving green-and-yellow flags, many wearing swimsuits.
“To start an Olympics at home, to see this crowd shouting Brazil, it’s a dream come true,” added Cerutti.
Brazil’s men’s pair were not given an easy ride and fell behind in the second set, but scrambled back to make it 20-20.
The next point proved to be vital with the Canadians left to rue a crucial challenge that did not go their way after Binstock fouled at the net. The visiting pair said the hostile crowd, which booed at times, had made things difficult.
One point later the match was over and the crowd erupted as the Brazilian winners signed the ball and launched it into the crowd.
The Brazilian men will now prepare to play Austria while the women face Argentina on Monday.
“The focus is to play and win... Gold comes as a result of that,” said Cerutti.
The atmosphere was only slightly less festive.
With a DJ spinning a samba beat and thousands cheering on their hometown teams, Saturday brought out the best the beach has to offer.
Fans sang, waved their flags and cheered on their teams for the four matches on a sun-baked morning at the temporary stadium erected on this city’s signature strip of sand.
Players kicked up sand as they dived for the ball, celebrated points with hugs and high-fives, and invariably saluted the crowd when walking off at after their matches.
“I love South American fans, and I love how the people love sports,” said Argentina’s Georgiana Klug, who lost her opener with Ana Gallay, losing to Spain in straight sets. “All the singing, dancing - it makes me feel like home.”
Beach volleyball joined the Olympic programme at Atlanta in 1996, but for most Summer Games the venue has been built in a park (or parking lot), with thousands of tons of sand trucked in to create the playing surface. For the first time since Sydney in 2000, the sport is returning to an actual beach.
With the party ready to start both in and outside the arena, Italian Adrian Carambula got things started with his trademark Skyball, a high and spinning serve that wanders into the path of the sunshine and wind and confounds attempts at a return. Although he typically uses it sparingly, Carambula said he was egged on by his friends to start things off with a little flare.
“They said they wouldn’t talk to me if I didn’t,” he said in a post-match, mix zone interview that was twice interrupted because Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi asked him to come over and pose for a picture.
US Secretary of State John Kerry also watched Carambula and Alex Ranghieri beat Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst 21-14, 21-13.
“My legs were shaking,” before the first serve, said Carambula. “When I walked in I actually got a little bit emotional. I wasn’t expecting it, but I embraced it and I played with it. So very special.”