Alison and Bruno stood on the top step of the Olympic podium, holding back tears as the booming voices of the Carioca singing the Brazilian national anthem rose above the waves crashing against Copacabana beach.
“In front of our people. In the best spot for this sport,” Bruno said after the reigning world champions beat Italy in straight sets in the beach volleyball gold medal match on Thursday night. “This is a magical feeling.”
In a temporary stadium erected on the sport’s spiritual home, during a steady rain that only served to help the 6-foot-8 Alison jump even higher, the Brazilians rallied from deficits in both sets to beat Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai 21-19, 21-17.
The victory sparked a lively but somewhat drenched party one night after losses in the women’s bronze- and gold-medal matches left the hosts with just two total medals at the Rio Games in a sport they love and were expected to dominate.
“It’s like a dream realized. I can’t believe it,” said Alison, who lost in the gold medal match in London. “It’s amazing. I don’t have the words.”
The Netherlands beat Russia earlier Thursday in a bronze-medal match that was subdued after two weeks of singing and samba dancing in the 12,000-seat venue. But when the time came for the main event, the stands filled and the anticipation built.
Italy opened a 5-1 lead but the hosts came back to win the first set. In the second, Brazil trailed by three before scoring 11 of the next 15 points to take a 19-15 lead.
Alison delivered his sixth block on the game-winner, knocking it off Lupo for what the referee ruled was a double-touch. The Italians questioned the call, but by the time the score hit the scoreboard the Brazilian athletes were already in the stands.
“We tried everything to win the game,” Nicolai said. “They were the best, for sure.”
Some fans covered their heads with the ever-present green and yellow flags in an attempt to stay dry. Others wore ponchos and waved their flags and celebrate each point scored by the locals.
As he has throughout the tournament, Alison egged on the crowd, pointing to his ear to encourage fans to yell louder after the Brazilians rallied from the early deficit.
The victory helped salvage what had been a bit of a disappointment for the Brazilian beach volleyball teams, who stepped onto their home sand with the top two women’s seeds and two of the top four on the men’s side.
Pedro and Evandro failed to make it out of the round of 16, and the top-seeded women’s teams collected only a silver medal.
Even with Italy’s loss, it was cause for celebration in Europe.
No European country had ever won a medal in women’s beach volleyball or even reached the final four before Germany beat one Brazilian team in the semifinal and another in the championship to claim the gold.
With the Dutch bronze and Italian silver on the men’s side, the three medals were an Olympic high for the continent. Heading into the Rio Games, the sport had been dominated by Brazilians and Americans, who combined to win 20 of a possible 30 medals.
“I don’t think we have to talk about it being the Brazilians and the Americans anymore,” said Alexander Brouwer after he joined with Robert Meeuwsen to win 23-21, 22-20 and earn the Netherlands’ first beach medal.
“Of course, it’s where the sport was invented,” he said. “But if you talk about it now, we are on an even level.”