Evandro, Bruno, Alvaro and Alison
FIVB

Brazil Olympic beach volleyball champs form dangerous teams after split

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HAMBURG, Germany — Rio Olympic champions Bruno Schmidt and Alison Cerutti are no longer partners.

But that is not necessarily good news for the competition.

“The teams they are with now make a lot of sense,” said NBC Sports analyst Kevin Wong, “and they are dangerous.”

The Brazilians split in May 2018 after four years together. Bruno said he and Alison mutually agreed to part in a quick conversation after a morning practice.

“We shocked the world at the time, but it was a smart decision,” Bruno said in an interview at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships. “We couldn’t push each other more.”

They were coming off a 17th-place finish, their worst result in an international tournament since 2015.

“We accomplished everything we could together, so it got to a point where we needed new goals and motivations,” Alison said through a translator. “We decided to go different paths while respecting each other so much.”

Both are now competing with younger players.

Bruno, 32, who is nicknamed the “Magician” for his ability to dig balls that seem destined to hit the sand, joined forces with 28-year-old Evandro Goncalves.

Alison, 33, known as the “Mammoth” with a large tattoo of the animal on his side to prove it, teamed with 28-year-old Alvaro Filho.

“We both knew we needed to get younger to continue to play at a high level,” Bruno said.

Evandro, a reigning world champion, has been named the top server on the international tour every year since 2015.

“When Evandro serves, it’s like somebody is spiking down at you,” said three-time U.S. Olympian Jake Gibb, “whereas a normal serve has an upward trajectory.”

Evandro said his serve has been clocked as fast as 63 miles per hour, but he is confident that he has served faster in practice.

“There’s been several times where I’ve hit someone in the chest so hard that the ball bounces back over the net, but no bruises from my serve,” Evandro said through a translator. “That just happens when I attack the ball.”

Playing with a defender as talented as the “Magician,” who was named the international tour’s top defender four times, Evandro has had to adjust to blocking full time. Meaning after he unleashes a serve, he must run to the net to block, rather than remain in the back half of the sand to play defense.

The 6-foot-11 Evandro, the co-tallest player on the international tour, has the height to be an elite blocker.

His size also earned him a pair of NBA nicknames. U.S. Olympian Casey Patterson nicknamed Evandro the “Black Mamba,” a nod to Kobe Bryant. But Bruno, the nephew of the Olympics’ all-time leading basketball scorer Oscar Schmidt, jokingly refers to his lanky teammate as “Kevin Durant.”

To improve his blocking technique, Evandro studies film of Phil Dalhausser, the 2008 U.S. Olympic champion who has been named the international tour’s top blocker seven times.

“Evandro was already a pretty good blocker before, and now if he’s making moves, that’s scary,” Dalhausser said. “He has no holes in his game.”

The partnership between Alison and Alvaro was orchestrated by three-time Olympic medalist Ricardo Santos.

Alvaro was playing with Ricardo, a player he grew up idolizing and even once ditched school to watch practice.

After the duo won the Brazilian national title in April, the 44-year-old Ricardo told Alvaro that he would be better off playing with Alison.

“I’ve never heard of a partner telling a partner to go play with another one,” Alvaro said. “I didn’t know what to say.”

Ricardo even called Alison to recommend Alvaro.

“Now I see why,” Alison said. “[Alvaro’s] such a great player … we are meshing really well.”

Alvaro is nicknamed the “Goat,” although he is quick to point out that the animal is common in his native Brazilian state of Paraiba and he is not actually the “greatest of all time.”

The 6-foot-1 Alvaro was named the international tour’s top rookie in 2013, the same year he finished second at worlds with Ricardo.

“Alvaro is deceptively big,” American Stafford Slick said shortly after losing to the Brazilian duo in three sets at the world championships. Brazilian men’s and women’s pairs won their first 19 pool-play matches in Hamburg, with the knockout rounds starting Tuesday. “If he was walking through the crowd, you wouldn’t think much of him, but that guy flies and has a whip of an arm. He’s tough to block.”

Evandro and Bruno are the top Brazilian pair in the Olympic qualification rankings, followed by Alison and Alvaro. A maximum of two Brazilian teams can go to Tokyo.

Evandro and Bruno won their last tournament before worlds. In the final, they ended the 23-match win streak of the top-ranked team in the world, Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sorum.

“I am not sure we are in our best shape yet, but we will get there,” Bruno said. “Evandro has pushed me to a level I almost forgot I could get to.”

Guilherme Torres and Nick Zaccardi contributed to this report

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

Gabriel Jesus
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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”