2016-10-18 15:44:00 CEST
We profile a legend of beach volleyball still going strong
He is – without question – one of the greats.
Three Olympic medals – one color of each. Four World Championship medals – including one gold. 228 FIVB World Tour tournaments – an incredible haul of 109 medals.
He’s a record-breaking five successive Swatch World Tour winner – and yet with such a glittering CV he’s still – at the age of 41 – out on the beach doing what he loves best: playing volleyball.
We are, of course, talking about the legendary Ricardo Santos.
Born in the Northeast Brazilian coastal town of Salvador, Ricardo began his international beach career at the age of just 20. At the Brazil Open in Fortaleza he and Evaraldo Alves finished last – in 40th place – and earned no prize money and just four ranking points for their efforts. Little did the rest of the beach volleyball world know that a star was ready to rock and roll.
During that fight for medals in Fortaleza that year, two emerging stars were busy finishing fourth. Ze Marco and Emanuel had already begun to wow the crowds with their performances on the sand. And three years after a young Ricardo had taken his first steps on the sand at international level he was lining up alongside Ze Marco for the first time on the same side of the court.
At 23, Ricardo’s class began to show and soon he and Ze Marco were regular medalists on the FIVB World Tour, winning their second event together in Rio. Soon top place on the podium would be a second home to Ricardo as he and Ze Marco blitzed their way to gold after gold.
In 1999 the pair won four golds and reached the semifinals in 11 of their 13 appearances but a year later the duo enjoyed an even better season. They finished top of the rankings and scooped silver the Olympics in Sydney after losing to Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana of the United States.
After enjoying so much success with Ze Marco, Ricardo decided to form a new partnership with Jose Loiola. In their debut season together the pair won two tournaments but they followed that up with an even better return in 2002 when the pair won three golds, one silver and one bronze.
As the silverware kept rolling in – including a 2003 World Championship title – what Ricardo craved most was glory at the Olympics and, after forming a partnership with Emanuel, the man now known as ‘The Wall’ got the gold he was looking for in 2004. He and Emanuel were in unstoppable form and swept aside Spaniards Javier Bosma and Pablo Herrera in the final in Athens.
Not content with Olympic gold, Ricardo was on a mission to continue his world dominance on the sand with Emanuel. In the three seasons that immediately followed their Athens triumph the pair won 18 golds, eight silvers and four bronze medals. Now that’s just darn right greedy!
Was that the beginning of the end for the Brazilian legends? Not a chance. The 2008 season might have ‘only’ seen them win two gold medals from 11 tournaments but Ricardo managed to add to his Olympic collection by securing bronze at the Beijing Games.
His partnership with Emanuel was as close to a perfect match that had previously been seen in the men’s game and during this time Ricardo was named the FIVB’s Most Outstanding Player in 2005 and 2007 and Best Offensive Player three years running between 2005 and 2007.
In recent years, as both players swapped partners and occasionally rekindled their partnership – including on the Swatch Major Series stops in Stavanger, Poreč and Gstaad in 2015 – the medals might have been harder to come by – but when you’ve had the career you’ve had, being in your forties doesn’t necessarily mean you still can’t roll back the years: just like he did at the A1 Major Klagenfurt.
Ricardo’s now passing on his knowledge and knowhow to a younger generation - including Andre, who he won the first stop of the Brazilian Tour with last month - proving that age is certaily no barrier.
And if that involves still playing and delighting the packed crowd – then our message to you Ricardo is: keep on going!