By the FIVB
Since they won gold at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Bruno Oscar Schmidt and Alison Cerutti took their time returning to the FIVB World Tour.
They waited nearly a month before arriving in Toronto for the SWATCH World Tour Finals. That’s a long break with the best teams in the world awaiting them, ready to take aim at the newly crowned Olympic champs.
“The main thing I said at the beginning was ‘Alison, let’s just have some fun. We don’t have to prove anything to anybody. Let’s just play with our hearts like we always do,’ ” Bruno said. “And when we play like this, we know we play strong and competitive.”
They poured their hearts into it, all right, and all they did was prove to everyone which team is the best in the world, just in case there was any doubt.
The Brazilians ended their season by defeating fellow Olympians and countrymen Evandro Goncalves and Pedro Solberg, 21-19, 21-19, in a hard-fought match Sunday to capture their second consecutive World Tour Finals championship.
In the women’s competition, Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst capped a “perfect” season as the Germans captured the gold medal Sunday.
With their 2-0 (21-18, 21-16) win in 41 minutes over Switzerland’s Joana Heidrich and Nadine Zumkehr in the women’s finale, the Germans captured the $100,000 first-place prize for their biggest “payday” in four seasons together on the FIVB World Tour.
The bling keeps building for Alison/Bruno, who are also the reigning World Champions. They finished their season with four gold medals, two silvers, and five trips to the podium in the nine events they played.
And that US$100,000 first prize they share for winning at Polson Pier in Toronto doesn’t look so bad, either. So with all that under their belt, it’s time to reflect, right?
“You know what?” Bruno said. “Me and Alison like to play tournament by tournament, step by step, improve, even the next year we’ll try to get better with our bodies and everything. We don’t want to get stuck on results or anything. The roller coaster goes on, so those things push me and Alison forward so we’ll continue to think like this.”
Wait, not even a minute?
“Well, for sure,” Bruno said with a laugh. “The Olympics were the results of our career. We didn’t realize what we did, but it was so stressful, we were so nervous, we wanted that title so much. The people (around us) want to help us but at the same time, they put so much pressure on our shoulders.”
They had to deal with the all-around brilliance of Pedro and Evandro, who were definitely out to prove that they were better than their ninth-place Olympic finish might have indicated.
They twice had a three-point lead in the first set, only to see Alison come up with a key block or Bruno scramble for a dig followed by precise shot. They had a 9-7 lead in the second, only to see Alison come up with a shot to the back line, followed by his block and an ace by Bruno. The Olympic champs never trailed again.
“We proved for us how strong our team is before and after the Olympics,” said the 30-year-old Pedro, who shares the US$50,000 second-place prize money with the 26-year-old Evandro. “We still have a lot left and we will keep going very strong.
“In my opinion, at this moment we are the second best team in the world. We are playing so good and winning tournaments and playing at a high level, but they are playing better. But I think me and Evandro, when we have our day, we are very tough to be beaten.”
Which is another factor that Alison/Bruno had to be wary of. Pedro can block, hit, set, pass, defend and Evandro, in addition to being the world’s most feared server, is developing into a premier blocker.
They’ve been on five podiums in 2016 with two tournament titles and three silver medals. They do own win one over Alison/Bruno, but have fallen short in the past four FIVB World Tour meetings.
“They are way tough,” Bruno said. “The way they are playing, you can’t even blink your eyes for any moment. Those guys are on fire. For me they are the best team of the season so far. Evandro was killing it. And Pedro has a lot of skills, those guys are combined perfectly as a team.
“We played a lot of times against each other, especially in Brazil, and every time is a new story. We deserve a final like this, Brazil-Brazil, because since the beginning of the Olympic run we are doing our maximum effort. The way both teams are doing, it’s amazing.”
Back to the women.
Sunday’s gold medal match was the fourth-between the two teams with the FIVB World Tour series now tied 2-2. The gold medal match was the third FIVB World Tour meeting between the two countries with Ludwig and Zumkehr being involved in all three. Germany leads 2-1 with both victories this season, including a gold medal win July 30 by Ludwig and Walkenhorst over Heidrich and Zumkehr at the A1 Major Klagenfurt.
Ludwig and Walkenhorst’ “perfect” run featured winning the European Championships in June, the Rio 2016 Olympic gold medal in August and the Germans Championships last weekend before ending their campaign with the SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals trophy. With the 2015-2016 FIVB World Tour starting last October in Mexico, Ludwig and Walkenhorst also were crowned the international circuit’s points champions.
“It was great to comeback win the trophy after losing our first two matches. We defeated four very great teams to reach the top of podium, Ludwig said. “It has been a long season with a lot of pressure-packed matches. It was all worth it. Today’s gold medal win is special since it validates our work the past four years together. Kira played great and it was great to defeat them today after losing to them Thursday. They had a great season.”
Walkenhorst admitted, “I’m tired and I am glad the season is over. Today’s win was especially gratifying after losing to the Swiss Thursday. What a special season for us. As for the future, the first thing is to get some rest. Thanks to everyone for their support this year. All the work was worth it.”
The SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals started slowly for Ludwig and Walkenhorst as the Germans lost a pair of pool play matches Thursday before rebounding with two elimination rounds Friday before advancing to the finals with a Saturday semi-final win over Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca of Brazil.
For the 2015-2016 FIVB World Tour season, Ludwig and Walkenhorst won gold medals at seven of the 13 events the Germans entered with eight podium placements, nine “final four” finishes, a 69-10 match record and $392,375 in winnings to compile the best-ever international campaign for a men’s or women’s beach volleyball tandem from their country.