German women grind Brazil’s gold hopes into sand
August 18 2016 09:02 PM
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Germany’s Laura Ludwig (left) and Kira Walkenhorst celebrate on the podium after taking the women’s beach volleyball gold. They beat Brazil 21-18, 21-14 in the final. (AFP)

AFP/Rio de Janeiro

Germany’s Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst crushed Brazil’s gold-medal hopes with an emphatic victory in the Olympic women’s beach volleyball final, silencing a raucous crowd at Rio’s famed Copacabana beach.
 World champions Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas had sent home hopes rocketing when they ousted American legend Kerri Walsh Jennings in the semis, but they couldn’t cope with the Germans who won 21-18, 21-14.
 The result torpedoed Brazilian hopes of a fourth gold medal at their home Olympics, and ended a tough night for the hosts after they also lost the bronze-medal play-off to Walsh Jennings and April Ross.
 At a packed temporary stadium, complete with dancers, samba band and swirling wind, German destroyer Walkenhorst was devastating with the spike as the visitors took control of the first set.
 Walkenhorst smashed yet another into the sand to set up four set points, with Ludwig deftly converting on the first attempt as the Germans took it 21-18 for a one-set lead.
 It only got worse for Brazil in the second set as Germany raced to an 11-5 lead and then set up match points when the imposing Walkenhorst successfully jousted at the net. And their challenge was quickly over when Seixa, under severe pressure, put her serve straight out, prompting a scream of delight from the celebrating German pair.
 Earlier, America’s Walsh Jennings added Rio Olympics bronze to her collection of gold medals after a stirring third-place play-off win against Brazil’s Talita Rocha and Larissa Franca.
 The three-time defending Olympic champion and her new partner, Ross, came off the ropes to win 17-21, 21-17, 15-9 in front of the partisan crowd.
 The Germans used the wind and their height advantage, with Walkenhorst’s dominance at the net proving too much for Brazil’s Bednarczuk and Seixas. They were the second Brazilian team to lose on a night of heartbreak for the home crowd after the loss of Franca and Antunes in the bronze medal match.
 Bednarczuk and Seixas, world champions and playing on home sand, started out as favourites but the Germans quickly showed they would not be cowered by the odds or the hostile crowd.
 “We worked on how to be self-confident even with this crowd,” Ludwig said after the match. “The Brazilians were really loud, even I had goosebumps, it was really special.”
 The wind picked up just before the final, swirling around the temporary 12,000-seat arena and making playing conditions difficult. But the Germans dealt much better with the wind, serving three aces while the Brazilians faulted five times.
 “There was a storm coming and I thought let’s take this storm and make our own storm,” Ludwig said.
 The Brazilians were crestfallen not to win the country’s first female beach volleyball gold since 1996, but admitted the Germans had been the better team.
 “It was not good for us when the wind started,” Bednarczuk said, explaining that they had struggled to adapt to the
gusty conditions. “They deserved the gold medal today.”
 Afterwards, Ludwig revealed they had practised mind-control techniques and imagined that instead of playing on Brazil’s most famous beach, they were at home in Germany and the deafening support was theirs.
 “It was definitely tough. We knew that it was going to be really loud,” she said. “Before (the final) we were talking about it, how it could be a bit distracting. We had some tools, some routines in our heads which we worked through with our team before. And then we were just in a tunnel and we could play really well from the beginning to the end. We were just in our own court and we were just hearing our own German crowd. Not really, but in our heads.”
 Earlier, Walsh Jennings and Ross came from a set down to clinch the bronze. Walsh Jennings, the sport’s most successful player with three gold medals, dominated at the net during the second and third sets as the Americans dominated the match.
 For Walsh Jennings, it was not the fourth gold medal she had cherished, but she leaves Rio having lost only one Olympic beach volleyball match during her career, Tuesday’s semi-final against Bednarczuk and Seixas.
Walsh Jennings made six blocks during the match, four of them coming in the final set, as the American showed her experience to keep cool in front of the partisan crowd that booed every US serve and cheered the early Brazilian lead.



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