Russia proved the oldest sporting adage that its never over until the scoreboard says so as their men’s volleyball team came back from the brink to snatch Olympic gold and spoil Brazil’s party at the London Games on Sunday.
By the time Russia’s Dmitriy Muserskiy hung high above the net to spike Russia to a 3-2 victory, they had undergone an astonishing roller-coaster ride that had seen them come back from two sets down and save two match points.
For a country that is considered among the powerhouses of the sport, Sunday’s victory also ended a painful 32-year streak without a men’s Olympic title that had included two losing finals.
For Brazil, it was their second consecutive silver medal that dampened celebrations on the day the Olympic baton was officially passed to Rio da Janeiro.
It was the first time a team had come from two sets down in the gold-medal match to clinch the Olympic title and the emotions spilled over at the end as the Russians piled on top of each other, before their coach Vladimir Alekno was hoisted triumphantly into the air.
“It’s hard for me to speak. Emotions are overwhelming me,” Russia’s Sergey Tetyukhin told reporters. “It was a hard match. I think that those people that did not believe in us, they turned their back and went away after the second set, but those who trusted, they are the most valuable. I think we have shown our character.”
Brazil were ranked No. 1 in the world and were everybody’s favorites heading into the encounter having beaten Russia 3-0 in the group phase of the tournament.
With the closing ceremony just hours away, there was a sense of destiny hanging over the final, especially after Brazil’s women’s team had clinched gold just 24 hours earlier. Sprawling lines of fans decked out in green and yellow snaked around the streets from Earls Court station, many holding placards begging for spare tickets to catch a glimpse of their team who started so well.
As the mercury soared outside and the atmosphere inside simmered, Russia were caught colder than a Siberian winter, with Brazil storming to the first set 25-19. From the moment Murilo Endres leapt athletically to put away the first point of the match, every Russian server was booed and their every mistake cheered to Earls Court’s peeling-paint rafters.
Russia’s frontline are towering giants of men, led by Muserskiy who stands at 2.18m and sleeps in a special bed in the Olympic Village to accommodate his hulking frame.
In the early stages, though, the Russian attack seemed like agricultural threshing machines in comparison to the more nimble Brazilians, who worked the ball around the court with speed and precision.
When Brazil took the second set, a carnival atmosphere had already begun to ripple around the stands. Russia looked forlorn and even their high-fives between points looked labored in comparison to their opponents.
The title was within touching distance for Brazil as they engineered two match points in the third set, but Russia saved them both, reduced the deficit to 2-1, and set the ball rolling on a remarkable change in fortune.
Muserskiy, who finished top scorer with 31 points, was firing winners at will as Brazil’s heads dropped, and all the coherence and structure that had propelled them to a two-set lead seeped away.
After leveling the match at 2-2, Russia romped away with the final set to win 19-25, 20-25, 29-27, 25-22, 15-9.