Lucas has been a pillar in the Brazilian national team for the most part of the last 15 years

For the last two decades, Lucas Saatkamp has been one of the faces of the Brazilian men’s national team. And if it depends on him, that won't change for the next few years.

The now-veteran middle blocker joined the country’s national team just a few months after their historic victory at the Athens 2004 Olympics and fed from the energy and the values of one of the greatest teams the sport has ever seen to build a long and victorious career with the traditional yellow shirt.

Battling the legendary Gustavo Endres, Rodrigao Santana and Andre Heller in practices at the start of his career has shaped Lucas to develop into one of the best middle blockers in his generation, having won two Olympic medals (gold at Rio 2016 and silver at London 2012), besides titles at the FIVB World Championship, the Volleyball Nations League, the FIVB World Cup, the FIVB World League and the FIVB World Champions Cup.

In a few months, Lucas, now aged 38, will appear in the Olympics for the fourth time as one of the veterans, alongside teammate and best friend Bruno Rezende, in a Brazilian squad that will try to bounce back from what he considers one of the toughest losses of his career, in the bronze medal match of the Tokyo Olympics to continental rivals Argentina, three years ago.

The national team has always been a priority for Lucas and he assures that will be the case until the end of his career. Firm in his approach of taking one year of his career at a time at this point, he’s not sure about what the future holds for him, but admits that Paris could mark his final Olympic appearance.

The dream, of course, is winning gold and potentially walking away on top, but with a handful of national teams emerging as favorites, he expects a tough battle in the French capital, even with Brazil having legendary head coach 'Bernardinho' Rezende back after seven years.

A couple of weeks ahead of Brazil’s debut in the Volleyball Nations League 2024, we sat down with Lucas for an exclusive Volleyball World interview.

Volleyball World: You have been with the national team since 2005 and have said in some interviews that you will only step away when they don’t want you anymore. After so many years, why is the national team still so special for you?

Lucas: Several reasons make me still want to be with the national team. But the main ones are the pride of representing my country and the possibility of playing with and against the best players in the world. To be with the national team you need to be playing at a very high level and that helps when I’m with my club too.

VW: During 20 years with the national team, you got to play with two of the winningest generations of Brazilian volleyball, the one that won gold in Athens 2004 and the one that triumphed in Rio, in 2016. How was it to work with these players and what are some of the most important things you learned from them?

Lucas: I started with the national team in 2005 and Brazil had what’s still considered by many as the best generation of international volleyball ever, so I developed as a player learning from their methods and values. Watching them practice and seeing how dedicated they were made me want to be a part of the national team even more. They taught me that representing Brazil is the most important thing in our careers. The main thing I learned from them was that the hard work we put in every day is what makes us win tournaments in the future.

VW: What are the best memories you have in two decades with Brazil? What was the most special victory? Are there any losses that still bother you?

Lucas: The first memory that comes to mind is my first match, against Portugal, in the FIVB World League in 2006. My first title as a starter was also very remarkable as we won a match unlike any other I’ve played against Serbia in Belgrade to take gold at the World League in 2009. I think that victory was very important for all of us because it showed that the new generation was resilient enough to keep Brazil on top. And, of course, winning gold at the Rio 2016 Games. It doesn’t get much better than winning the Olympics at home with the fans supporting us from the start. Regarding setbacks, losing bronze to Argentina at the Tokyo Games was probably the one that hurt me the most during my time here. Not making it to the podium was really frustrating. It wasn’t easy to deal with it but I believe that what really matters is giving your best every day and that winning and losing are part of the game, so that helped me accept it because I knew we did all we could.

VW: Your connection with Bruno has been always a big part of your career as the two of you started with the national team at about the same time, got to play together in several clubs and always had a lot of success. How important is he in your life and why do you think you two got to connect in such a strong way?

Lucas: Bruno and I have been together since the youth national teams and continued with the senior team. He’s extremely talented, has won titles in every team he played for, his success is really undebatable. Bruno always had a lot of confidence in me and that allowed me to develop a lot offensively because he was never afraid to give me the ball. That chemistry and confidence in each other came with time and a lot of training together. And outside of the courts, he’s such a nice guy, with one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen. My wife and I picked him to be the godfather of our son and much more than a fantastic teammate, he also became a big friend.

VW: Who were the players that inspired you at the start of your career?

Lucas: I was fortunate that when I was starting with the national there were many players in my position that did a lot of things well, so I tried to take a little bit of each of them. Gustavo (Endres) was always a reference when it came to blocking, while Andre Heller and Rodrigao (Santana) were excellent offensively, so watching them practice was always very interesting. I tried to pick the best of each of them, but of course, they did it a such a high level that it wasn’t easy. I think that having them around when I started was one of the reasons why I got to play at a high level for such a long time.

VW: Your club career played out differently than the ones of most players of your generation who had the same level of success you did as you only got to play overseas in one season. Did that happen because you wanted that way or did you just happen to get better offers from Brazil?

Lucas: In fact, I always preferred to stay in Brazil because I felt that middle blockers were considered more valuable here than in other countries. I was in Italy with Modena for one season and it was a very successful year, but I always felt comfortable in Brazil. After I got married and we had our first baby, we thought it would be better for our family to be home and I’ve always put them at the top of my priorities. I also always need to be at clubs with good structure and I could find that everywhere I got to play here in Brazil, which I think is one of the reasons for my longevity.

VW: How did you see Bernardo’s return to the national team after Renan’s departure? How do you see Brazil’s chances in the tournaments of the 2024 season and which national teams do you consider your main opponents?

Lucas: We had excellent moments with Renan as he helped us get some really good results in a moment in which men’s volleyball has maybe been the most competitive ever. I don’t think there’s a lot that needs to be said about Bernardo. He’s an extremely successful coach and has played a major role in Brazilian volleyball for it to be where it is today. I like Brazil’s chances this season, I think we have a very good squad, just like five or six other national teams. France, the USA and Poland have been among the best for some years now. Germany has surprised a lot of people at the Olympic Qualifier, Italy and Argentina have great teams and Japan has been playing at a really high level. I think each of these teams could win titles this year.

VW: When you started with the national team, Brazil was vastly dominant in the international scene. Now, you are still among the top teams, but are not as absolute as before. Do you think this change has more to do with Brazil declining after an incredibly successful period or with other national teams improving and reaching a higher level?

Lucas: We had a very strong generation from 2001 to 2008 and I doubt we’ll ever see such a great group of players together like that again. Even with some changes, Brazil continued to be pretty hegemonic until the London 2012 Games. I believe there was a decline from our side, but I don’t think it was that big of a drop, I just think that we had way too many excellent players that we were in sort of our own league back then. But a lot changed internationally as volleyball continues to develop around the world and now there’s more science and information available for everyone and players from every country are able to play in the top leagues, raising their level too. That made every national team in the world improve and the level is as close as ever now.

VW: How do you see your career after Paris? At 38, this could be your last Olympic appearance. If that’s the case, how would you want it to be?

Lucas: To be honest, I didn’t think about it yet. But I still feel good. After so many years with the national team and having taken no time off, I still feel very well mentally. I even joke saying that if I were to take a season off from the national team, which I never did, I probably wouldn’t know what to do with the time I’d have on my hands. I’m very cautious with my career and always take it one step at a time, but wherever I am, be it at the club or the national team, I try to do my best every day. Of course, I understand that the national team will need new faces at some point, but as long as I feel that I’m playing at a high level, I’ll always be available. If these are my last Olympics, I would like to go out winning, for sure. It’s every athlete’s dream to leave a club or the national team at the top.