Car parks to Copacabana, life's a beach for volleyballers

Wed Jul 22, 2015 12:57am EDT
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By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - Winning Pan American Games medals in a soccer stadium car park was still a thrill for Brazilian beach volleyballers on Tuesday but the dream of playing at next year's Rio Olympics on the sacred sands of Copacabana remains the ultimate goal.

The atmosphere inside the temporary arena pulsated with a beach volleyball vibe but competing beside the home of Major League Soccer's Toronto FC hardly comes close to matching the breathtaking backdrop seen at the sport's spiritual home.

In a year's time, BMO Field will be replaced by Sugar Loaf mountain and the statue of Christ the Redeemer will gaze down upon the Olympic action as waves crash onto one of the world's most famous beaches.

"It means my dream, my dream to be in the Olympic Games and if we can play on Copacabana it would be the biggest dream of my life," Lili Maestrini told Reuters after she and partner Carolina Horta beat Canada in the bronze medal game.

"It is like this crowd always full and they cheer for every team with their heart. It is one of the best places to practice and play."

If the sport did not instantly spring to mind at the mere mention of Rio de Janeiro, amble along the Copacabana boardwalk on any given day and you will see plenty of fit and tanned young people enjoying games of beach volleyball.

The compatriots of those seaside sportsmen and women have returned home from every Pan Am Games with beach volleyball medals and no country has won more Olympic medals in the sport than Brazil.

However, there was no gold for Brazil in Toronto as Mexico's Juan Virgen and Rodolfo Ontiveros upset Vitor Aruajo and Alvaro Magliano in the men's final to deny the 2016 Olympic hosts a third straight title, while the women had to settle for bronze.   Continued...

Jul 21, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Carolina Horta and Liliane Maestrini of Brazil celebrate a point after Canada in the women's beach volleyball bronze medal match during the 2015 Pan Am Games at Beach Volleyball Centre. Mandatory Credit: Matt Detrich-USA TODAY Sports