U.S. women's volleyball team beats Brazil 3-0 to win first Olympic gold medal (2024)

TOKYO — Last quadrennial, the U.S. women’s volleyball team incorporated a new practice into their daily routine – a gratitude circle.

There, each member would go around the room and share what they were grateful for that day. The moment of reflection allowed teammates to show their appreciation, sometimes tearfully, for one another and be vulnerable.

So, when three-time U.S. volleyball Olympian Jordan Larson delivered the final kill to complete a three-set sweep against Brazil in the gold medal match, the entire U.S. team brought the gratitude circle to the court. They fell to their knees in a huddle, with tears flooding the gold-medal drought that plagued the program since volleyball’s Olympic introduction in 1964.

“I've cried more in the last 24 hours than I think I have in my career,” Larson said. “I'm not an emotional player, emotional person, but I think just the emotions got the best of me. I'm now in kind of this euphoria and like shock state.”

Veterans Larson, middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo and outside hitter Kim Hill know the taste of silver and bronze. They’ve come up short of gold at the Olympics before, once at the 2016 Rio Olympics when they settled for bronze and once at the 2012 London Olympics when they took silver. Larson andAkinradewoparticularly know the pain of falling to Brazil, the team that beat them in the gold medal match in 2012.

This time around, Brazil went undefeated in the pool round and in the bracket leading up to the final. Head coach Karch Kiraly expected the match to be tough against the 2008 and 2012 gold medalists, but the U.S. showed they were tougher.

“Our team put together its two best performances of the tournament two days ago in the semifinal and here today,” Kiraly said. “When they play like that, they're pretty darn tough and they applied pressure early, put their gas early and never let up. That made it a little easier on friends and family at home. A few less gray hairs than going late into the fifth game.”

U.S. women's volleyball team beats Brazil 3-0 to win first Olympic gold medal (1)

In the first set, the U.S. started off hot, going on a 4-0 run with points from outside hitter Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, middle blocker Haleigh Washington and opposite Larson. Brazil swiftly responded, closing the gap to an American lead of 8-7. Led by Larson and Bartsch-Hackley, who finished the first set with six and eight points, respectively, the U.S. won, 25-21.

Brazil came out strong in the second set, taking a 3-1 lead with points from outside hitter Rosamaria Montibeller and middle blocker Caroline de Oliveira Saad Gattaz. But the U.S. gained the lead and pulled ahead 11-8 after an ace from opposite Annie Drews and several key attack points from Akinradewo. They took the second set, 25-20.

In the minutes between the second and third set, setter Jordyn Poulter and the rest of the U.S. team paused to appreciate their efforts.

“You can be so dialed in, so focused that you forget to enjoy this moment,” Poulter said. “Enjoy the fact that we're playing in the gold medal match. Enjoy that we're beating one of the best teams in the world as a group with the people that we love.”

The two teams exchanged leads early in the third set, but Brazil pulled ahead 6-4 after an attack point from outside hitter Gabriela Braga Guimaraes. But the lead was short-lived, and the U.S. went on a 5-1 run led by Larson and Akinradewo to go up 9-7. The U.S. sealed their victory on the second match point and took the third 25-14.

Finally, veterans Larson, Akinradewo and Hill had their gold medals. For Akinradewo, just to make it to Tokyo took overwhelming strength. In 2019, she gave birth to her son Olukayode. Shortly after, she discovered she developed diastasis, which is the separation of the rectus abdominis. Through physical therapy, she was able to work her way back to the team.

“I feel like there aren't words to accurately describe how awesome she is,” Jordan Thompson said. “She perseveres and I remember when she was pregnant and she was in the gym working out and sometimes it made you feel a little guilty. I'm like, am I going hard enough? She's six months pregnant and lifting more than I am. To see that, it inspires you.”

At the Tokyo Games, the U.S. team was tasked with overcoming adversity. Thompson sustained an ankle injury in the team’s pool-round loss to the Russian Olympic Committee and she never returned to action in the tournament. Poulter also dealt with her own ankle injury sustained against Italy, but she managed to return.

The group rallied together despite those challenges and individuals stepped up in Thompson and Poulter’s absences. Drews started in place of Thompson following her ankle injury, and she came up big in the final match with a team-high 14 attack points.

“It hasn't been a smooth ride for a lot of us,” Drews said. “It's never the way you want to receive playing time. You want to earn it. But I think a big, resounding message is we're 12 strong and Jordan Thompson and I have always put a big emphasis on getting the job done collectively, whether it be her, whether it be me.”

Now, 57 years later, the U.S. women’s program finally has a gold medal to its name. The circ*mstances of how it happened, Kiraly said, made the accomplishment even sweeter.

“Brazil is a legend in indoor volleyball, both on the women’s side and the men’s side … we lost to them in the final in 2008 in Beijing and in 2012 in London,” Kiraly said. “Both our teams had some disappointments in the last Olympics in Rio. So, it seemed very appropriate that these two legendary programs would meet and very appropriate for our team to finally make history and win its first ever Olympic gold medal here at the birthplace of indoor Olympic volleyball.”

U.S. women's volleyball team beats Brazil 3-0 to win first Olympic gold medal (2024)
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