Rodrigao slowly getting used to life on the beach
When Rodrigao Santos left the London 2012 Olympic Games court with his third Olympic medal around his neck, few of the Brazilian fans that thronged the Earl’s Court arena believed that they would ever see him in action in Brazil colours again.
Sure, the middle blocker played for Qatari club Al Rayyan at the FIVB Club World Championships in October, but from then on many expected him to join the likes of captain Giba, Serginho and Ricardo Garcia in retirement.
There would have been few who begrudged Rodrigao, or any of the others, a bit of time to relax and take stock of their careers. After all, they had helped Brazil to gold at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and silver at Beijing 2008 and London 2012. On top of which they also won three FIVB World Championship golds – in 2002, 2006 and 2010 – not to mention seven FIVB World League titles.
Despite the chance to look back on a success-stuffed career and polish his medals, Rodrigao decided he wanted one last challenge and so decided to try his hand at beach volleyball, hardly a sport where Brazil have been lacking success in recent years.
“I thought about moving to beach volleyball last May because I knew I wasn’t going to be playing in the national team for much longer,” Rodrigao told VolleyWorld. “There is also a Superleague rule that limits the number of star players a team has and since I’m worth seven points, there was no space.
“There were two options, play outside of the country or play beach volleyball. I wanted to stay home and spend more time with my family so I chose beach volleyball for family reasons.”
The 33-year-old made his beach volleyball debut at the Rio de Janeiro leg of the Banco do Brasil National Tour. He teamed up with veteran Carloa Arrudo, but they slumped to an opening loss to Fred de Souza and Marcos Cabral and then lost in their second and final match of the tournament against Luciano and Rodridgo Saunders. Despite the inauspicious start for a man used to success, the losses have made Rodrigao even more determined to succeed in his new sport.
“We started well but we felt the pressure of having to win to advance,” he said. “It was tough and they served all the time to my partner. I was setting all the time, when I’m used to spiking and scoring points.
“It’s totally different, the main thing is you touch the ball every rally, much more than in volleyball, so you make more mistakes. You have to be patient, especially me, but I’m learning from the mistakes I make. I like it, I wanted to play for a while but the transition is tough.”
Brazil have long been the leaders in beach volleyball. The current male corld champions are veteran Emanuel Rego and the formidable Alison Cerutti, who won the 2011 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in spectacular style in Rome and followed that success up by winning silver at the London 2012 Olympics.
Behind them there are a number of established Brazilian players, including 2004 Olympic champion Ricardo Santos, who will play with Alvaro Filho this year, and Pedro Salgado and Bruno Schmidt.
Furthermore new rules introduced by the Brazilian federation (CVB) mean that players will need to be part of the national squad to be selected for the FIVB World Tour, something that Rodrigao has yet to achieve.
“I will play beach volleyball for the next year at least,” Rodrigao added. “I want to play on the World Tour but I’m not part of the national team and I need to improve to be a part of the national team.
“I enjoy playing beach volleyball a lot, but the hardest thing is that I was competitive in volleyball. I don’t feel like that in beach volleyball, so I need to work hard.
“I have always thought about playing beach volleyball, ever since Nalbert invited me to play. I delayed at that time because I wanted to play at the Olympics in Beijing. If I played with Nalbert it would have been easier, two new players together making the transition together.”
While it may be some time before Rodrigao begins to add some beach volleyball medals to his collection, he is under no doubt that the Brazil volleyball team that he has left behind will continue to go from strength to strength, even without the stars who have stepped down.
This year they will be out to reclaim the World League title that they last won in 2010 and use it as a stepping stone on their way to defending their World Championship gold in 2014 in Poland.
“The Brazilian volleyball team is still competitive,” he said. “There are still great players there, Bruno, Lucas and Vissotto, they have what it takes to win titles and defend their World Championship crown.”
Name: Rodrigo ‘Rodrigao’ Santana
Years playing internationally: 13 - debut in 1999 v Paraguay
Position: Middle blocker
Height: 205cm (6’9”)
Hometown: Sao Paolo
Date of Birth: 17/04/1979
Honours: London 2012 Olympic Games – silver medal
Beijing 2008 Olympic Games – silver medal
Athens 2004 Olympic Games – gold medal
FIVB World Championship – 2002, 2006, 2010 gold
FIVB World League – eight golds, one silver, one bronze