Yana Marques
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Who is Brazil’s greatest Olympian?

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Brazil’s two major sports are soccer and volleyball (indoor and beach), but no soccer players make this list. It’s because most male soccer players only play one Olympics (Neymar being an exception), and the Brazilian women (who have a legend in Marta) haven’t won an Olympic title. Brazil has others to choose from who earned medals at multiple Olympics … 

Escadinha
Volleyball
Four Olympic Medals

Sergio Santos is known as Serginho or Escadinha, the latter translating to stepladder. The libero shares the record for most Olympic volleyball medals. Escadinha reached the final of every Olympic tournament he played, the last in Rio at age 40. He grew up in a favela on the outskirts of Sao Paulo. It was thought his national team career was over after the 2012 London Games, but longtime Brazilian coach Bernardinho called him back in 2015 for one more run. Wise move. Escadinha was named tournament MVP, leading Brazil to home gold. After the Olympics, Escadinha’s farewell match with the national team drew 35,000 people.

Fabi/Sheilla
Volleyball
Two Olympic Gold Medals

Brazil’s greatest female Olympian has to be an indoor volleyball player from gold-medal teams in 2008 and 2012. No other Brazilian women own multiple golds. Six women made both of those Olympic volleyball teams. Of those, Fabi and Sheilla had the most acclaim. Fabi was the best libero at the Beijing Games. She later earned best digger and best receiver honors in other major international competitions. Sheilla, an opposite and Brazil’s top scorer at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, rejoined the national team last year after a retirement. Another medal in Tokyo could vault her ahead of Fabi.

Torben Grael
Sailing
Five Olympic Medals

Competed in every Olympics from 1984-2004, making the podium in five of his six appearances. Grael memorably lost gold in 1988 due to a broken mast in the final two-person Star race. His gold medals came in 1996 and 2004, the last one at age 44, both with Marcelo Ferreira. Grael became the first sailor to earn five Olympic medals, a record later tied by Brit Ben Ainslie and countryman Robert Scheidt. Grael and Scheidt were due to face off in Brazil’s Olympic Trials in 2008 before Grael withdrew.

Ricardo/Emanuel
Beach Volleyball
Three Olympic Medals each

The only Olympic men’s beach volleyball team to win multiple medals. Ricardo and Emanuel earned gold in 2004 and bronze in 2008. Each legend also earned a silver medal with a different partner at other Games. Together, they own the international men’s beach volleyball record book. Emanuel grew up so skinny that he didn’t play soccer and had to transition out of indoor volleyball. Even when he started playing professionally on the beach, he was called “Bones.” Ricardo was a converted soccer goalie. Ricardo and Emanuel broke up in the London Olympic cycle because Emanuel wanted to move from Joao Pessoa to live in Rio full-time with his wife.

Robert Scheidt
Sailing
Five Olympic Medals

Extended Brazil’s sailing dominance after Grael bowed out of Olympic competition before the Beijing Games. Scheidt, like Grael, earned medals in five of his six Olympics. Scheidt, like Grael, earned golds in 1996 and 2004 (Laser class, not Star). In Rio, Scheidt placed fourth in a bid to break his tie with Grael and Ainslie for the Olympic sailing medals record. A U.S. Olympic coach once called Scheidt, “the Michael Jordan of sailing.” His world championships record — golds spanning 1995 to 2013 — betters Grael’s. Scheidt is still competing at age 47 — after a reported retirement in 2017.

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U.S. women’s indoor volleyball league to begin play next year

Foluke Akinradewo, Jordan Larson
AP
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The top women’s indoor volleyball players in the U.S. will now have their own professional league at home, giving more athletes an opportunity to prolong their careers past college without having to go overseas.

They will get to help govern the league themselves, too.

Athletes Unlimited, in partnership with USA Volleyball, announced plans Wednesday for a six-week league to begin next February in an as-yet undetermined city in the Southeast. It won’t conflict with the U.S. team’s preparations ahead of next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“I’ve been a professional volleyball athlete for a decade now and every time we want to make a living and go play professionally we have to leave the country to do it, so to have Athletes Unlimited, not only having a shorter season, getting to play at home for the first time, it’s so special,” U.S. star Foluke Akinradewo, who has signed on to play, said during a telephone interview Wednesday.

“They’re empowering the athletes. We get to kind of determine the rules and we have a big say in things. It’s really the opposite of the life we’re living overseas.”

Some, like Akinradewo, still plan to play overseas. Fellow American Olympic teammate Jordan Larson will be part of the new league and she also plays professionally in China, while Akinradewo competes in Japan.

Molly McCage is another player who has committed. The three women will determine which 48 players are invited and set rules for the league, which will feature an innovative format without general managers or owners. Four captains will choose their teams one week then a points system from that week will determine the captains for the next week of competition.

“This is a sport that has a huge following around the world, close to a billion people play volleyball around the world. It has huge pro leagues in many countries, both on the women’s and men’s side,” said Jon Patricof, Athletes Unlimited CEO and co-founder. “For this to be the first pro indoor women’s league in the U.S. is tremendous and a huge moment for the sport.”

Athletes Unlimited has also launched a pro softball league.

Akinradewo is a new mom with a 5-month-old son, so the flexibility to be home more in the U.S. will mean a lot. She expects the new league will keep more players involved and grow the game domestically.

Akinradewo and the No. 1 Americans earned bronze at the Rio Olympics four years ago. Initially, the league will feature only U.S. players but there is a possibility to expand down the road.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer as to why people would want to sign on to this,” Akinradewo said. “It’s just a different look at the game of volleyball as we know it.”

MORE: Jordan Larson preps for her last Olympics

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Punahou, Barack Obama’s school, produced Olympic talent in 4 sports

Punahou School
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Some high schools have a swimming tradition. Others produce great ice hockey or water polo players. The Punahou School in Honolulu, private and K-12, is best known for a student who also played basketball — its most famous graduate, Barack Obama.

Also this: Dating to Obama’s tenure in 1976, at least one Punahou student went on to make the last 11 U.S. Summer Olympic teams.

And with the addition of skateboarding and surfing to the Olympic program, there are former Punahou students among the best in the country in four different Olympic sports, plus another Paralympic sport.

“One of my favorite things about going to Punahou was that I felt like I was surrounded by a lot of excellence,” said Carissa Moore, the reigning world champion in surfing and a Punahou grad. “A lot of my friends are some of the smartest girls, women. … The whole school, everyone is doing something.”

Moore, 27, qualified for the U.S. Olympic team with her fourth world title last year. Heimana Reynolds is the reigning world champ in park skateboarding.

Brothers Taylor and Trevor Crabb are on different beach volleyball teams ranked among the top three in the country. Erik Shoji is a veteran libero and Micah Ma’a a promising setter and outside hitter for the U.S. indoor volleyball team.

Shelby Baron is a Rio Paralympic wheelchair tennis player who is now ranked third in the country.

It’s possible that they could all qualify for the Tokyo Games, which have been postponed to summer 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Punahou, whose name means “the New Spring,” referencing renewal and a spring at the center of the campus, bills itself as the largest single-campus independent school in the U.S. and reportedly the oldest west of the Mississippi.

It was founded in 1841 with a first class of 15 students who were children of congregational missionaries. Now, it has more than 3,700. Annual tuition is $26,000, though there are financial aid options.

“This used to be an elite school, you know. Mostly rich. Predominantly Caucasian,” said Eric Kusunoki, who was Obama’s homeroom teacher for four years as part of his four decades working at Punahou. “But then when I stepped foot here, I said, wow, you know, it’s so diverse. Hawaii’s golden people, you know.

“It’s [a] very cosmopolitan campus and very reflective of what Hawaii is like.”

The school has been compared to Stanford. Sports Illustrated ranked it the No. 1 high school athletic program in 2008, replete with an eight-page magazine spread, and again in 2009. The magazine deemed it a “76-acre citadel of academic and athletic excellence where Aristotle meets Duke Kahanamoku.”

Kahanamoku, the Olympic swimming champion and surfing pioneer, never attended Punahou.

But several famous athletes are among the alumni. Like Michelle Wie, Manti Te’o and Obama, who played one season of varsity basketball on the Buff n’ Blue’s 1979 state title team.

In fact, Obama wrote in his autobiography that the lure of Punahou helped keep him in the States with his grandparents rather than flying back to Indonesia with his mom.

Obama, needing a financial aid scholarship to attend, toured the campus with his grandfather before the fifth grade. “Gramps grabbed me by the arm. ‘Hell, Bar,’ he whispered, ‘this isn’t a school. This is heaven,’” Obama wrote.

“He wasn’t a big standout,” Kusunoki said of the student they called Barry. “But yet everybody knew him. He was well-liked, well-known, but he did it real subtly.”

Others followed Obama with athletic success. Reynolds was a skateboard prodigy, profiled by the local NBC affiliate as a 10-year-old before leaving Punahou after 10th grade. He switched to online classes to accommodate all his traveling for competition.

Skateboarding and surfing are not sanctioned high school sports in Hawaii. Moore still won a record 11 National Scholastic Surfing Association titles. In her spare time, she was such a convincing tour guide for prospective Punahou students that admissions officers called her “The Closer,” according to SI.

“I have heard this,” Moore said, smiling when told the nickname. “It wasn’t really ever a big thing for me, but yes, I would bring potential prospects that would come to the school and stuff and give them tours.

“It’s just a beautiful environment to learn. It’s a very comfortable, free environment. The best part of this community is they’re going to support you in chasing your dreams.”

Moore said she was classmates with Taylor Crabb, one half of the U.S.’ top-ranked men’s beach volleyball team. Taylor’s mom, Paula, a champion canoe racer, has been a Punahou P.E. teacher since Obama was there. Taylor and partner Jake Gibb have been competing against Taylor’s older brother, Trevor, and Tri Bourne for Olympic beach volleyball berths.

It’s possible both Crabb brothers, who grew up a five-minute walk from the Punahou campus, can make it to Tokyo.

“Whenever someone says, oh, I went to Punahou, the first thing someone says is, oh, it’s where Barack Obama went,” said Trevor, who won a state basketball title and goes back to campus about once a year to see the old gym.

Shoji’s father, Dave, was the University of Hawaii’s women’s volleyball coach for 42 years, capturing four national titles and retiring in 2017 as the winningest coach in NCAA history. Ma’a won four state titles in volleyball at Punahou and others in football and basketball. At 22 and fresh out of UCLA, he was the second-youngest U.S. player at the 2019 Volleyball Nations League.

Both Trevor Crabb and Moore said you wouldn’t know it by walking around campus that Obama once roamed the grounds. He contributed to just one of a reported 505 state championships in the school’s history, a record for any state.

“There’s nothing up there yet,” of the 44th U.S. President, Moore said, “but it’s definitely something the school is very proud of.”

MORE: Hockey field to hospital ward: Olympian’s life amid coronavirus pandemic

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