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U.S. women left in tears after losing volleyball final
The U.S. quest for Olympic gold in women's indoor volleyball will have to wait another four years. After a fast start, the top-ranked Americans...
LONDON — The U.S. quest for Olympic gold in women's indoor volleyball will have to wait another four years.
After a fast start, the top-ranked Americans were outplayed Saturday by nemesis Brazil for the second straight time in the Olympic finals, losing 3-1 (11-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-17). The U.S. settled again for the silver medal.
At the end of the match, while Brazilian players danced, performed somersaults and posed on the referee's stand, the U.S. team huddled on the court and consoled each other. Destinee Hooker, the star 6-foot-3 spiker from San Antonio, hugged Megan Hodge of Durham, N.C., who was in tears.
For the U.S. it was a bitter rerun of the 2008 final in Beijing, which Brazil also won 3-1. The United States has never won gold in women's indoor volleyball, settling for three silver medals and one bronze since it became an Olympic sport in 1964.
"Right now I still believe that we're a gold-medal team, and I'll believe it for the rest of time," said an emotional Lindsay Berg, the team captain who started at setter over former UW star Courtney Thompson despite a left Achilles strain.
"Brazil was the first team that took us out of our rhythm and our system."
The U.S. women had been unbeaten in Olympic play, dropping just two sets in seven matches coming into the final, one of them to Brazil. They looked sharp in Thursday's semifinal, defeating South Korea in three sets and getting a psychological advantage with the return of Berg, who had missed the quarterfinal match with a left leg injury.
For the first 22 minutes Saturday evening it looked like the Americans might coast, taking a quick first set thanks to a fearsome front-court attack led by Hooker.
But world No. 2 Brazil, cheered on by a rowdy sea of green- and yellow-clad fans at Earl's Court, roared back to take the second and third sets with much more aggressive play. Serving hard and deep and spiking the ball cross-court, they seized the initiative away from the Americans, attempting 75 kills to just 59 for the U.S. in those two sets.
Hooker said afterward that Brazil's change in style threw her squad off balance.
"I think our team was more focused and more together (in the first set)," Hooker said. "I think in sets two, three and four we kind of went away from each other. We went on our own islands instead of regrouping and playing as a team."
Brazil's rabid fans did their part, whistling and booing every time U.S. players went to serve. While the Americans said it didn't distract them, Hugh McCutcheon, who led the U.S. men to a gold medal in 2008, said that once Brazil's team got on a roll in the second set, the his team had no answer.
"You could see that Brazil kind of grew and grew in confidence and also in their ability to execute as the match went on, and it became more difficult to get a foothold in there," McCutcheon said.