No Olympic beach volleyball gold medals for Brazil.
Gnarly was the word for the USA as Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross were thrilled to have won bronze after beating top-seeded and hometown favorites Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes of Brazil 17-21, 21-17, 15-9.
“It feels like a gold. Once you win a semifinal, the gold-medal match is easy,” Walsh Jennings said a day after being knocked off in those semifinals. “I mean no disrespect to winning a gold medal, it takes everything you have, but you’re going to go home with a medal. The bronze medal match is the gnarlyest match I’ve ever played in my career because you go home with a beautiful medal or you get nothing.”
The German pair of Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst might disagree after they totally overpowered Brazilians Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas to win that gold medal 21-18, 21-14.
“It is just incredible,” Ludwig said. “I’m speechless and I can say we definitely deserved to win. I think I can say that after this tournament.
“We played game to game and we had a strong team behind us who kept us strong and how to be self-confident with this crowd because the Brazilian crowd was very loud.”
It was the first time a European women’s team won gold. Fellow Germans Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann won men’s gold in 2012.
The men’s medal matches are Thursday night as Brazil takes another crack at gold.
At midnight Rio time, 11 p.m. in the Eastern time zone, Alison Cerutti and partner Oscar Bruno Schmidt take on Italians Paolo Nicolai and Danielle Lupo in what should be an epic battle.
Before that, Russians Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Konstantin Semenov go for bronze against Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen of The Netherlands.
Walsh Jennings/Ross 2, Larissa/Talita 1
The Americans seemed overwhelmed in the first set as Walsh Jennings continued to have the serve-receive problems that doomed the pair in the semifinals against the other Brazilians.
“We were trying so hard,” Ross said. “It was all about being together. Things didn’t go our way in the first set.”
Brazil broke open set one by winning a four-spike rally that ended in a Talita spike down the line to make it 14-12. Walsh followed up with a cut error into the net. Brazil responded with a tough serve to Walsh that forced Ross to set from the end line. Ross was able to set the ball to the net, but Walsh’s attack sailed long for 16-12.
The Americans opted not to call time out, but the ensuing Brazilian ace for 17-12 gave Brazil the lead they needed.
Set two was tight until Talita made an uncharacteristic hitting error to give the Americans a 16-14 lead. Ross dug Talita’s short pokey and converted it for a 17-14 lead.
“We just kept trying and trying and trying to get something to go our way. We figured out the point that did it was… we were down 13-14 and I got a hand on a dig, but it sprayed and Kerri chased it down into the banner. She got it up and we got it over for 14-14. That was just the little bit of mojo that we needed. We seriously had to fight for every point after that as well.”
A few points later Ross aced Talita on a tough jump float serve, putting the USA up 19-15. Larissa responded by aceing Walsh to narrow the lead to 19-17. After a Walsh side out, Ross dug a Talita spike attempt, then pounded it line to even the match.
At 6-6 in the third, Walsh then blocked Talita twice, but the second cover floated over the net into Walsh’s lap, and she put it away for 7-6. The USA built more momentum from a Ross dig, cutting it for a winner and a 8-6 lead.
Five serves later, Walsh jumped into the angle, stuffing Talita’s spike attempt to go up 11-8.
The USA dominated late in the set, ending a three-ball rally with a Ross crosscourt spike for 13-9, followed by two Walsh blocks to end it.
Walsh had six blocks while Brazil had one, while Larissa had six of her team’s seven aces. The Americans had one.
“I talked to myself all day today,” Ross said. “I was in shock last night and it slowly got worse throughout the day. I spent a lot of time in bed with my eyes closed, visualizing, trying to get up for this match. It was tough, but once we got here, our coach Marcio (Sicoli) gave us the most amazing pep talk. He snapped us out of it and it was like determination from that point on. It even grew in that match. We realized that we were going to have to really fight for it, like we should, and we did, it was so gnarly. So, so gnarly.”
Ludwig/Walkenhorst 2, Bednarczuk/Seixas 0
The 15-mph winds presented passing and setting challenges for both teams.
The first half of the set one was closely matched. Brazil went up 13-12 one on a Walkenhorst overset, but it was to be the last lead Brazil would have. Walkenhorst blocks for 14-13, 16-13, coupled with tough German serving and a Brazil hitting error let the Germans put it away.
Set two was all Germany, who raced out to a 6-1 lead with Walkenhorst blocks at 2-0, 4-1, and 6-1, with Ludwig digs at 1-0 and 5-1. Brazil attempted to close on the good side, and got as close as 15-12 on a Seixas dig and a Walkenhorst passing error.
At 18-13 Germany reasserted control with a Ludwig ace, followed by Walkenhorst hammering a Bednarczuk overset for 19-13.
At 20-13 Ludwig hit a near miraculous trickle net serve that bounced on the net three times, falling on Brazil’s side for 20-13.
Walkenhorst, who had seven blocks to Bednarczuk’s one, sided out to end it.
“It was really hard, but right now everything is fine,” Walkenhorst said. “We are so happy we were working four years really hard every day and it was not easy, it was a hard way, and we had dreams in those four years.
“We always fight together and now I’m so proud that we made it. It’s an amazing feeling now.”