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Associated Press
Brazil’s Jaqueline Carvalho spikes the ball past Americans Christa Harmotto, left, and Lindsey Berg on Saturday.

Volleyball gold eludes US team

– It is late in the Olympics, but there is still plenty of time for tears of all variety. There they were Saturday night at Earls Court, where the women’s volleyball players from Brazil formed an impromptu circle, dancing and singing and waving their flag, crying all the way.

And on the other side of the court, the team that thought it would finally cry those tears of joy went through a traditional, match-ending procedure, shaking hands with the referee, then coming back in single file to high-five each member of the coaching staff. And when the Americans did that, they cried, too.

The U.S. women entered Saturday’s gold medal match as the favorite, and early on, they played the role superbly. But in scarcely more than an hour, the four years of work the Americans put in since losing the gold medal to Brazil in Beijing seemed to evaporate. Brazil emphatically took the final three sets in a 11-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-17 victory that started the waterworks on both sides – for vastly different reasons.

“Right now, I still believe that we’re a gold-medal team,” U.S. captain Lindsey Berg said. “And I’ll believe it for the rest of time.”

The Americans, ranked first in the world, dominated this tournament before the final. When they crushed Brazil in the opening set, there was little reason to believe Saturday wouldn’t finally bring that gold medal, the prize that had eluded the Americans since women’s volleyball came to the Olympics in 1964.

“The team was playing very well and executing at a high level,” U.S. coach Hugh McCutcheon said. But Brazil made changes, particularly in how it attacked the American block, led by Destinee Hooker and Foluke Akinradewo. And when the changes were made, the match turned.

“You could see that Brazil grew and grew in confidence,” McCutcheon said. “Once you start playing catch-up, once you start reacting, it’s very difficult. Usually, a team wants to be proactive, to be controlling the rhythm.”

The Americans never returned to that point.

“It’s the first time we’ve not had control the whole tournament,” Berg said.

Brazil’s play, spearheaded by Sheilla Castro and Jaqueline Carvalho, had a much greater effect on the United States, which never held a lead past the early stages of any of the final three sets.