In their first Olympics, Cuban male volleyball pair Nivaldo Diaz and Sergio Gonzalez topped their group, beat the Brazilian favorites, and on Friday easily overpowered their Austrian rivals to propel themselves to the quarter finals.
The first Cuban male volleyball team to qualify for the Olympics in over a decade, Diaz and Gonzalez have stunned opponents and won over the Brazilian crowd – save for the time they topped the home favorites – with their sure-footed play, clean shots, and laid-back style.
“If they continue to play like this, not thinking too much, I think they’re going to win,” said landlocked Austria’s Clemens Doppler, after he and partner Alexander Horst lost 17-21 14-21 to the Caribbean islanders.
The Cubans, who topped their group with three straight wins, have been playing together for three years.
“They play easy, and that’s the most difficult thing,” added Austria’s Doppler.
Cuba’s Gonzalez, a 1-metre-95-cm (6-foot-5-inch) player from the coastal city of Holguin, agreed it was love for the game – easy to play on the tropical, Communist-run island – that fueled them.
“We love beach volleyball, we’ve played since we were kids. So we just enjoy. When you do what you love, it all goes your way,” said Gonzalez, 26, wearing blue shorts and a red shirt.
But the pair, while new to the stage, is not just seeking to have fun on Rio’s iconic Copacabana beach, Gonzalez stressed.
“We’re not stopping until we win gold,” he said after the match, which was peppered with shouts of “Vamos Cuba!”.
His partner Diaz, a lean 2-metre (6-foot-7-inch) player who started playing beach volleyball in capital Havana when he was 13, admitted to being stunned by the pair’s success in the first South American Games.
“We thought things would go well – but never this well,” Diaz, 22, told Reuters after the game.
Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Hay, REUTERS
August 12, 2016