Sunday, August 24, 2008

BEIJING | Brazil won its first gold medal in women’s volleyball on Saturday, beating the United States 3-1 and ending an emotional run by an American team struck by tragedy hours after the opening ceremony.

The Brazilians won a tight and tense deciding set in their first Olympic final to win 25-18, 18-25, 25-13, 25-21, and blemish the return of U.S. coach Jenny Lang Ping to her hometown. Lang led the Chinese team to the gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Games, with a final match victory over the United States.

“We have nothing to be disappointed for,” U.S. wing-spiker Logan Tom said. “You see tears; they’re tears of happiness, though. We came a long way this tournament.”

Brazil finished the Olympic tournament without a loss, while China beat Cuba 3-1 earlier in the day for the women’s bronze medal.

The Olympics started on a tragic note for the U.S. team when the father of former U.S. player Elisabeth “Wiz” Bachman McCutcheon was fatally stabbed Aug. 9 at a popular Beijing tourist site by a man who then committed suicide. Her mother was seriously injured in the attack.

Todd Bachman was also the father-in-law of U.S. men’s volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon, whose team will also face Brazil on Sunday for the gold medal.

Against this backdrop, the Americans embarked on an improbable run to the final, where they finally met their match in a talented Brazilian team.

In the final set, Brazil went up 15-13 on Sheilla Castro’s spike, but the United States scored three straight points to go ahead. Brazil challenged, but couldn’t pull back in front until Marianne Steinbrecher’s spike knocked over Tom and made it 21-20.

Brazil scored the last four points and won it when Tom’s spike sailed out of bounds.

While the Brazilians danced, the U.S. women gathered in a tight hug. Tears in their eyes, they raised their clasped hands upward.

Brazil, the No. 1-ranked team in the world going in, rolled undefeated through five preliminary pool matches. They had not dropped a set coming into the final.

The United States went 4-1 in pool play, then defeated second-ranked Italy in the quarterfinals before a stunning three-set upset of former powerhouse Cuba to reach the final.

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