CKU Medal Ceremony 018

Duda and Ana Patricia top the podium in Rome

It was the strangest of sights, though stranger still, was the fact that it happened, and happened, and happened again: For three consecutive major tournaments – 2019 World Championships, 2021 Olympic Games, 2021 World Tour Finals – there was not a single Brazilian team, male or female, on the podium.

That simply doesn’t happen. Not to Brazil. For so long, the South American juggernaut had, as Volleyball World commentator Simon Golding put it, “feasted on medals” on the biggest of stages in this sport. And yet, for three years, Brazil was strangely starved of them. Even with a roster packed with ebullient talents in Agatha, Duda, Ana Patricia, Rebecca Cavalcanti, Carol Salgado, Barbara Seixas, Alison, Bruno, Evandro, Alvaro, Andre, George Wanderley, Renato Lima, Vitor Felipe, Guto – the list could go on for longer than you’d wish to read -- the biggest tournaments proved strangely elusive. Medals were won, yes, but not when it counted most.

Not when legacies are made.

It appears that didn’t sit well.

You could see the emotions pouring out of every vein and pore this past weekend in Rome. You could see just how much it meant to Vitor Felipe, when his poke shot went down against Americans Theo Brunner and Chaim Schalk, a 21-17, 21-19 semifinal victory sealed, a World Championship medal guaranteed. He pulled his jersey so hard it’s a wonder it didn’t rip clean in two, bellowing to the crowd waving the Brazilian flag. You could see how much it meant to his young partner, Renato Lima, the 22-year-old wunderkind, a three-time youth world champion. He was left nearly speechless on centre court afterwards, when Julius Brink attempted to interview him, to garner how he was feeling in this moment.

Renato Lima and Vitor Felipe

Renato Lima looks on as Vitor Felipe keeps the ball in play

What words could possibly do the justice that a 22-year-old rookie just ended Brazil’s World Championship medal drought?

“I never imagined this,” Lima said.

But the world did. It knew that it was a matter of time before Brazil began adding to their treasure trove once more. It was inevitable. How can one possibly make a reasonable argument that Duda and Ana Patricia would be contained, how George and Andre, the current leaders in the world rankings, would fail to stand on a podium, how either Alison or Guto or Renato or George or Barbara and Carol or Rebecca and Talita Antunes would all be snuffed shy of the medal rounds?

In Rome this past week, the dam broke.

So dominant were Ana Patricia and Duda this week that they dropped just a single set in eight matches, against the best teams the world had to offer. So huge was that for Ana Patricia that the typically stoic blocker broke down into a fit of tears and laughter after the gold medal was confirmed with a 21-17, 21-19 victory over Canada’s Sophie Bukovec and Brandie Wilkerson.

Believe is the word Ana Patricia has tattooed on her arm, something she permanently etched onto her skin following a disappointing finish at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

“It was a difficult moment for me,” she said. “I wanted to have something that would always remind me that before anyone else does it, we need to believe in ourselves. Today, it couldn’t make any more sense.”


Ana Patricia reacts at the World Championship in Rome

That tattoo, and underlying message, could speak both to her own personal journey and that of the Brazilian federation as a whole. Andre and George, despite watching a 14-11 third set lead melt away in the quarterfinals of the 2019 World Championships, despite narrowly missing out on qualifying for Tokyo, despite losing the first set of this tournament to a 44th-seeded Iranian team, believed. Ana Patricia and Duda, despite seeing countrywomen Barbara and Carol win a number of medals already this season, believed. Renato and Vitor, despite falling in multiple qualifiers a year ago, despite four straight tournaments without a single quarterfinal appearance, much less a semifinal, believed. Believed they could weather one of the most brutal draws in the tournament, in which they met the Czech Republic’s David Schweiner and Ondrej Perusic in the first round, Italians Samuele Cottafava and Paolo Nicolai in the second, and Estonians Kusti Nolvak and Mart Tiisaar in the quarterfinals.

“We believed all the time,” George said after winning bronze over Schalk and Brunner. “It’s what we do. We believe in ourselves.”

It might only be Ana Patricia who has that word tattooed on her skin, but all of the Brazilians have it deeply stitched into their minds: Believe.

“That,” George continued, “was the key.”

Andre and George

Andre and George celebrate their bronze in Rome

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