As a player who has won FIVB medals with numerous partners at every level of competition on the international circuit, Pedro Solberg sits back today reflecting on his beach volleyball career as he celebrates his 35th birthday at home in Rio de Janeiro
“Unfortunately for the second-straight year I won’t be able to celebrate my birthday,” said Solberg, who is scheduled to start his 20th international season of competition next month in Mexico at the Cancun hub events with Arthur Mariano Lanci.
“I just can’t do it with all that’s going on right now,” Solberg added. “Things are chaotic here in Rio and it wouldn’t be reasonable to gather people and celebrate whatever it was. The moment now calls for us to be cautious and stay home and hopefully next year things will be different.”
The 25-year-old Mariano Laci will become the 20th partner that Solberg has competed with at FIVB-sanctioned events. Solberg’s first event was in 2002 when he and his first partner Ian Borges captured the Under-18 World Championship on September 1 at Xylokastro, Greece.
The Greek youth title was the first of three youth FIVB World Championships for Solberg as he topped under-21 podiums in August 2003 with Pedro Cunha at Saint Quay Portrieux, France, and in August 2006 with Bruno Oscar Schmidt in Myslowice, Poland.
Overall, Solberg captured five medals in six youth appearances with his only non-podium placement in FIVB Age-category World Championships being a fourth at the 2005 under-21 competition on Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro where he and Tiago Santos lost to eventual gold medal winners Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Martins Plavins of Latvia in the semifinals.
Like Solberg, Mariano Lanci is a youth world champion as he topped both the under-19 (2014 Porto, Portugal) and under-21 (2016 Lucerne, Switzerland) with George Wanderley. Mariano Lanci and Wanderley also placed fifth at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games where the Brazilians were eliminated by eventual gold medal winners Oleg Stoyanovskiy and Artem Yarzutkin of Russia in a three-set quarterfinal match.
“It’s a nice coincidence,” Solberg said about playing with another youth world champion. “I don’t think we ever talked about it, but I believe it just shows how much potential he has as a player. He’s still young and I’m confident he’ll have a long and successful career if he keeps working hard and fighting for his goals. And I hope I can be by his side during part of that journey. He’s a really nice guy and an excellent player, I’m confident we’ll develop great chemistry as a team but only time will tell that.”
After winning a gold medal in his first FIVB competition in 2002, Solberg has stood on 59 more FIVB podiums with 12 different partners while being a part of 21 gold medal-winning pairs with seven different teammates in his next 18 seasons. On the World Tour, Solberg has won 18 titles with six partners while placing on 39 podiums with 10 different mates.
Compatriots Ricardo Santos and Alison Cerutti are tied with Solberg with World Tour gold medals won with different partners at six each. Ricardo has 55 titles with his six different partners while Alison has 25 with six different teammates. Brazilian Emanuel Rego is second to Solberg in partnership podium placements as he has medaled 154 times with eight different teammates.
“It’s crazy to think I’ve been playing internationally for almost 20 years,” Solberg noted. “It doesn’t look like it’s been that long, but it’s great to know that I’ve been doing it for so long because playing beach volleyball is what I love to do. Not a lot of people get to do what they love for so long, so I feel I’m really privileged in a certain way.”
As the sibling with the most gold medals in his family for FIVB beach events, Solberg said “I haven’t even started thinking about what I could do when my career came to an end until a few months ago. But I still have a lot of dreams to accomplish in the sport. The last two years were difficult for me because I wasn’t as successful as I wanted but at the same time, I feel like it forced me to look at different things on the court. I’m trying to change my game a little bit and hopefully, I can regain my space.”
The 2005 season marked Solberg’s first foray into major FIVB competition as he and Borges competed in three Challenger/Satellite events on the international circuit in Europe with two bronze medal finishes at tournaments in Finland and Italy. He also played in his first World Tour stop as he and Cunha placed 17th in Poland at Stare Jablonki.
The 2006 season was Solberg’s first full campaign on the World Tour as he was shepherded around the world by legendary Brazilian Roberto Lopes as the pair competed in six events together highlighted by a fourth-place finish in Croatia were one of the pair’s nine wins in 12 matches was a three-set victory over reigning FIVB champions and compatriots Marcio Araujo and Fabio Luiz Magalhaes.
“That season was amazing, really special,” said Solberg. “Roberto had retired from the World Tour for a few years already, but he agreed to travel with me, and he helped me a lot. It was really important to have such a champion like him by my side. He wasn’t the most talkative partner, but he taught me a lot on the court. He’s one of the greatest players I’ve ever seen, his technique was absurd, and yet he played such a simple and straightforward game. He was phenomenal and he was a great professor for me.”
The next year as a 21-year-old, Solberg started a successful two-season run with Harley Marques as the pair finished fourth on the 2007 World Tour ranking list with three gold medals, five podium placements, six final four finishes and nine quarterfinal appearances in 16 events.
The 2008 season was Solberg’s most successful and rewarding season on the World Tour as he and Harley were crowned the World Tour champions with six gold medals, seven medals, 11 final four finishes and 12 quarterfinal appearances in 18 events. Solberg was also named the World Tour’s top blocker at the age of 22.
“I’ve been fortunate to have had quite a few partners I really enjoyed playing with, so it’s hard to pick one,” said Solberg. “When I think about a partner with whom I had great chemistry and that had similar energy on the court, it has to be Harley. We had a really special feeling between us. We were always in a good mood and were always positive.”
Two of Solberg’s most memorable matches were with Harley starting with their first event together in May 2007 when the Brazilian pair became the 11th men’s team to top a World Tour podium in their first FIVB tournament together.
“Winning my first World Tour gold medal with Harley in 2007 at Shanghai is certainly one,” said Solberg. “On the negative side, our defeat to Marcio and Fabio in Marseille in 2008 (July 19 semifinal, 21-17, 21-14) that cost us the qualification for the Beijing Olympics was remarkable too. We were in great form and had what it took to qualify so it was really frustrating to not make it happen.”
In 2009, Solberg played with three different partners (Cunha and Benjamin Insfran and Ricardo Santos) before reuniting with Harley in 2010 when the pair completed their partnership by playing in 10 more events with two more podiums together highlighted by a pair of final four wins over Olympic and world champions Phil Dalhausser/Todd Rogers of the United States and Julius Brink/Jonas Reckermann of Germany.
After failing to win a World Tour gold medal in 2011 or 2012 while playing with Cunha, Rhooney Ferramenta and Marcio Araujo, Solberg reunited with Bruno as the pair never finished lower than fifth in 13 FIVB events with two gold medals, six podiums and seven final fours.
“From a technical standpoint, I think my team with Bruno was really special because we complemented each other really well on the court. When we first played together, in 2013, it was a lot of fun. I was really proud of the way we played.”
Before making his Olympic run in 2015 and 2016 with Evandro Goncalves, Solberg played nine events at the start of the 2014 season with Emanuel Rego before ending the campaign by competing in two tournaments with Alvaro Filho. Solberg and Emanuel earned a bronze medal that season in the Netherlands where they defeated Alison and Bruno in the third-place match.
Solberg’s first of two tournaments with Alvaro resulted in a gold medal at Stare Jablonki where the Brazilians became the 13th men’s team to win a World Tour in their first event together by defeating Latvians Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins in the three-set finale.
“I loved playing with Evandro too,” said Solberg. “At that time, I was the most experienced in the team and was playing with a younger guy for the first time. And another one I would add is Rhooney. We didn’t play a lot of tournaments together, but we are really close friends, so it was fun to be with him on and off the court. All these guys were part of my career in a special way and I’m probably missing a few others, like Marcio Araujo.”
The Solberg/Evandro partnership netted a bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships at The Hague along with a bronze and silver at the FIVB World Tour Finals in 2015 and 2016, respectively, at events in the United States (Fort Lauderdale) and Canada (Toronto). Solberg and Evandro won three World Tour gold medals and placed on nine podiums in 22 events together.
Solberg cited his first tournament together with Evandro in late May 2015 in Moscow as a memorable experience as the pair were starting their bid together for the Rio 2016 Olympics. Solberg and Evandro did qualify for Rio where the pair placed ninth.
“There’s one match with Evandro too that was really important for our team,” said Solberg. “It was the first tournament in the qualification period for the Rio Olympics and we defeated Ricardo and Emanuel in three sets with 21-19 on the third in Moscow. We knew that if they started the race ahead of us it would be really difficult for us to catch them. They were way more experienced than us and perhaps we wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure. And we were very brave and determined to win that match. It might have been the first tournament of the entire process, but I feel that in a certain way it was that match that qualified us to Rio.”
Since placing second at the Toronto event in September 2016, Solberg has only reached two international semifinals in his last 31 World Tour events highlighted by a July 2017 gold medal in Croatia with Gustavo "Guto" Carvalhaes as the Brazilians defeated Rio 2016 Olympic silver medal winners Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai of Italy in the three-set Porec Major finale.
The next season playing with Wanderley, Solberg and his 17th of 19 FIVB partners placed fourth at the March 2018 Fort Lauderdale Major where the pair dropped final four matches to Lupo/Nicolai and Samoilovs/Janis Smedins.
Since Fort Lauderdale Major, Solberg has played with Bruno, Vitor Felipe and Oscar Brandao in a combined 20 World Tour events the past three years. The best finish was a fifth with Bruno at a January 2019 event in The Hague in the last tournament for the pair when Bruno started his Tokyo Olympic bid with Evandro.
On having his mother and sisters as World Tour gold medal winners too, Solberg said “It’s really cool. I love my family and what makes me really proud about it is the way we help each other. Every time I’m in a bad situation I know I can count on my sisters, my mother, my father. That’s really special and I’m sure everybody in the family feels the same way about it. I’ve gone through some hard times in my life, and they were all right there with me. And I try to do the same for each of them. Volleyball is for sure an important part of our lives, but I’d say it’s kind of secondary when I think about all the good moments we’ve shared in our lives. We had great memories with volleyball too and that’s special, but I’d say the human beings they are is what makes me really proud of my family. They’re all great people who care about the world and are very generous. I’m really grateful for the family I have.”
On the toughest opponents he faced on the World Tour, Solberg said “if I had to pick three teams, they would be Ricardo/Emanuel, Dalhausser/Rogers and Alison/Bruno. These three teams were really strong and were really dominant. I’d place Ricardo and Emanuel above the other two because they were the best team and Ricardo is the greatest player I’ve ever seen; he was a beast. There were other teams that were also really difficult to play against like Samoilovs/Smedins, Jake Gibb/Sean Rosenthal of the United States, Reinder Nummerdor/Richard Schuill of the Netherlands, Brink/Reckermann, David Klemperer/Eric Koreng of Germany and Penggen Wu/Linyin Xu of China. It was always a great battle against them.”
On his favourite cities and countries to play in and visit, Solberg said “I love playing in Gstaad, it’s such a special place. I’ve played in three finals and won twice there, so it makes it is even more special. I love playing in California and in Rio too, nothing beats the feeling of playing at home. We’re going to different cities every year and one that’s no longer in the calendar, but I really enjoyed was Stare Jablonki.”
On plans to play until his 40s and what his plans will be after he retires, Solberg said “I think about playing for some more years but what will really determine when I retire is my level of play. I want to be among the best and to compete and when I realise that’s no longer possible, I’ll just walk away. I’ve had a few setbacks in the last two years but now I’ve put a strong team behind me again and am working hard to regain my space. I’m feeling well, I still have dreams and I’ll fight for them but if in two or three years I feel like it’s not going to happen, I’ll just leave. I’ve built a great history and volleyball has given me so much already. I have other passions that I would like to pursue after I end my career like music and movies. I could see myself becoming a coach either in Brazil or overseas too. I’ve thought about a lot of possibilities but one thing I know for sure is that I won’t be home sitting on my couch for too long. That I wouldn’t be able to do.”
FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour
Olympic Games Tokyo 2020