A U.S. and Brazil volleyball rivalry on Copa Cabana beach will draw masses to watch along the water, but fans could also be in store for a third-straight gold medal match between the two countries at the Ginásio do Maracanãzinho for the women’s volleyball indoor gold medal.
Silver medals at the 1984, 2008 and 2012 Olympics have been put in the past for the U.S. women as they seek their first-ever gold medal. They have lost at the hands of Brazil on the last two occasions.
The men look to end the gold medal drought at eight years. The U.S. men field a team with a mix of young and experienced talent. 38-year-old Reid Priddy, will be the oldest U.S. Olympic indoor volleyball player as he competes in his fourth Olympics. He was a member of the American squad that won gold at the 2008 Summer Games and is coming back from a torn ACL in 2014 that caused him to miss most of the last two years.
The young American star to watch will be Taylor Sander, who was the 2014 and 2015 collegiate player of the year and the 2014 AVCA Player of the Year. He was the World League tournament MVP and the Best Spiker when the United States upset Brazil in 2014—which he could be hoping to repeat with a gold medal on the line.
Teams to watch
United States women
The U.S. has settled for silver at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics but will head to Rio with the world No. 1 ranking. The team went 41-6 overall with four gold medals in five tournaments in 2015 but lost in the FIVB World Cup. They qualified by sweeping Canada, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in the NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament. The team took silver at the FIVB World Grand Prix but Kimberly Hill was one of two recognized with the best outside hitter honor. Hill will be making her Olympic debut after having focused on beach volleyball until 2013.
The Brazilians are coming off a win at the 2016 FIVB World Grand Prix tournament as the team was led by wing spiker Natália Pereira, a member of the 2012 Olympic gold medal team, as she scored 60 points with 48 spikes, 11 blocks. Alongside Hill of the United States, Sheilla Castro was the other best outside hitter honoree before she heads to her third Olympics. Because of the win, Brazil moved up to No. 2 in the FIVB rankings.
Watch Brazil’s win at the 2012 Olympics below:
China will face the American women in the group stage in what would also be a rematch of the 2014 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship final, which was won by the U.S. China has previously won at the Olympics as they took gold in 1984 and most recently 2004. The team will return five players from the 2012 roster that took fifth but will be under new direction with coach Lang Ping. She was at the helm for the United States’ silver medal finish in 2008 and won gold as a player on the 1984 Chinese roster.
The United States’ No. 5 ranking in the world puts them in the same group as Brazil, 2015 World Cup runner-ups Italy and 2015 World League and European champions France. They have found some success on the global stage including a bronze medal in the 2015 World League and a win in the 2015 World Cup.
The Brazilian men head to Rio with the No. 1 ranking in the world. The team is coached by Bernardo Rezende, who has won six Olympic medals (one as a player and five as a coach) and looks to make up for the disappointment of silver in London. The Brazilians took silver at the 2014 world championships and a disheartening fifth at the 2015 World League. They could be in better shape than struggling Olympic champions Russia.
Matchups to watch
Women: USA vs. Brazil
Due to the popularity of the sport and the U.S.’ recent success, this could be one of the most watched match-ups between nations of all sports at the Summer Games.
Men: Poland vs. Brazil
A possible finals match-up between Poland and Brazil is not out of the question. Brazil will have the home crowd on their side but a European upset could happen as well.
Gold medal schedule
The top four countries in each group will advance to the knockout round. Four teams will advance to the semifinals before the medal matches are set.
Aug. 20 – Women’s bronze medal match, 12 p.m. ET
Aug. 20 – Women’s gold medal match, 9:15 p.m. ET
Aug. 21 – Men’s bronze medal match, 8:30 a.m. ET
Aug. 21 – Men’s gold medal match, 12:15 p.m. ET