Tri Bourne sighed the sigh of the exasperated athlete. On his podcast, SANDCAST, he was discussing the Olympic race – who was in, who was out, who could make the push to be in the coveted top-15 in the world. Then the conversation turned to Brazil, and he sighed.
“If only,” he said, trailing off. He didn’t finish the sentence, but it would have gone like this: If only the United States did its Olympic qualification process as the Brazilians do.
Brazil’s beach volleyball federation operates differently than the rest of the world. It is, at this current moment, the undisputed king of the beach volleyball world. Sure, Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sorum are No. 1 on the men’s side, and the United States’ April Ross and Alix Klineman lead the pack for the women, but in terms of world class depth, no country plays beach volleyball like the Brazilians do.
Which is why they also select their Olympic teams differently than the rest of the world.
For the rest of the planet, the Olympic qualification deadline is June 13. The Olympic ranking list, denoting who is in and who is out, will be published on June 14. Until then, countries will vie for points, with teams attempting to score finishes high enough to push them into the top-15 in the world, which will assure them a berth in the Tokyo Olympics.
For Brazil, however, the Olympic qualification deadline has come and gone. The teams are selected not one month prior to the Olympic Games, but nearly eight. For the men, Alison Cerutti and Alvaro Filho, and Evandro Goncalves and Bruno Oscar Schmidt, will be competing in Tokyo, should Brazil secure two spots via the Olympic ranking. For the women, it will be Rebecca Cavalcanti and Ana Patricia Silva, and Agatha Bednarczuk and Duda Lisboa.
It’s why Bourne sighed and quietly wished the U.S.A. operated on a similar system. If it did, not only would he and Trevor Crabb be on the way to Tokyo, but he and John Hyden would have competed in Rio in 2016 as well. Alas, the U.S. does not do this, and if it did, the way teams plan and schedule events would have been significantly different, but still: it is impossible not to wonder.
On the outside looking in for Brazil, then, are Andre Loyola and George Wanderley, despite them being ranked No. 14 in the Olympic rankings. The same goes for Maria Antonelli and Carolina Salgado, who are No. 5; and No. 14 Barbara Seixas and Fernanda Alves.
Whether or not any of the aforementioned teams climb the ladder to surpass their higher-ranked compatriots does not matter. In fact, Andre and George are the only team who are even still together. Carol has teamed up with Barbara, Antonelli had a baby then partnered with Talita Antunes, Fernanda has yet to enter an FIVB.
The system has its benefits.
With their Olympic spots shored up – it should be noted that the teams do still have to remain in the top-15 in the Olympic rankings in order to qualify, but it is almost a mathematical guarantee that they will – the teams can pick and choose what events they’ll play. If there’s a nagging injury, they don’t have to compete; they can relax, rest up, heal, without worrying about a rival team taking them over in the rankings. Bruno, then, could rest easy during Doha, recovering from a COVID infection, while Evandro and Guto took silver.
Americans Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings did something similar during their halcyon days of three consecutive gold medals. They’d front-load the schedule, building up such a cushion of points that they could pick and choose which events to play, how to train, when to peak. They didn’t need to peak a month or two prior to the Games to assure their Olympic spot; they did so at the exact right time. The result was an unprecedented and unrepeated three straight golds.
Like Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor, Brazil’s Olympic results speak for themselves: It has won at least a gold or silver in every single Olympic Games since 1996, when it became an Olympic sport. Whether that’s causation or correlation to their Olympic system is up to interpretation, but it is, at the very least, useful for fans to know why certain teams are no longer playing together, despite being so close to qualifying.
Brazil, as a whole, competes and wins on a different level than any other country in the world.
The reward is to construct a system different than any other country in the world.
A winning system.
FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour
Olympic Games Tokyo 2020