The Olympic women’s volleyball champions from Beijing 2008 and London 2012 will not be able to make it three in a row in Rio de Janeiro 2016.
The women of Brazil’s indoor volleyball team failed in their attempt for a three-peat in front of a packed Maracanazinho Tuesday night, losing in five sets to China, 25-15, 23-25, 22-25, 25-22 and 13-15.
After a fast start that saw Brazil take the first set in convincing fashion, the Chinese came roaring back to take the next two sets, putting the tournament favorites’ backs against the wall.
They responded as any two-time defending champion would in the fourth set, rallying for a win to force a decisive fifth set. But Brazil didn’t have enough left in the tank, ultimately blowing a 9-7 lead to lose 15-13.
The loss was a major upset in the volleyball world, as the previously unbeaten Brazil – 5-0 in Group A – was bested by a China team that barely made it out of its group with a 2-3 record in Group B. What’s more, Brazil getting knocked out of the tournament opens a huge window for the U.S. women to finally get that elusive gold that Brazil has had a lock on since 2008.
Brazil defeated the U.S. in the finals of both 2008 and 2012, so with the only team that has stopped the Americans in the past finally out of the way, it may be the perfect time to strike and earn Team USA’s first Olympic gold.
Like Brazil, the Americans blew through the group stage, going 5-0 within Group A, before winning their quarterfinal tilt against Japan in a 3-0 sweep.
Now the semifinals are set, with China set to face off against the Netherlands, who beat the Chinese in the first match of the tournament, Thursday. The other half of the bracket features the U.S. against Serbia. All four teams came out of Group B, which bodes well for the Americans. The semifinals are to be played Thursday night, with the finals and bronze medal match on Aug. 20.
With Brazil out, there doesn’t seem to be anything in the way of a first gold for the U.S. women’s volleyball team. After all, it did sweep the group, going undefeated while beating all three other semifinal teams. Only one of those teams, the Netherlands (5-1 overall), took the U.S. to five sets. Serbia lost its group stage match against Team USA 3-1, and have amassed a 4-2 overall record. China, meanwhile, somehow snuck through the knockout rounds with a 3-3 record, despite coming into the tournament as the No. 3-ranked team in the world.
Also on the line: a historic victory for U.S. head coach Karch Kiraly, who is widely regarded as one of the best volleyball players and coaches ever. In case you’re not up on your American Olympic volleyball history, Kiraly was the first male or female to ever win an Olympic gold medal in both indoor and beach volleyball, and is one of four players to ever win a World Championship as player and coach as well.
A gold medal for his team would make him arguably the most successful volleyball figure in history, and would give the women their first gold at the Olympics after getting silver three times (1984, 2008, 2012) and bronze once (1992).
But first the U.S. has to get past Serbia and the winner of the Netherlands/China semifinal. If the U.S. can’t do it this year, they have nobody to blame but themselves, especially with the toughest competition already out of the tournament.