Bruno Looking Like ‘The Wizard’ Once Again
Photo credit: FIVB
That’s what some in the beach volleyball world had taken to calling Bruno Schmidt in the two years leading up to the 2016 Olympic Games. It called him this for all of the reasons you’d suppose. Bruno could simply get to balls that seemed to require some type of magic, be it floo powder, a broom, a spell, an incantation, a potion, something. He could do things with a volleyball that at times seemed to bend the physics of reality.
For four straight years, his ability to produce magic on the court earned him the FIVB Best Defensive Player. During two of those years, he doubled as the FIVB’s Most Outstanding and, in 2016, he and Alison Cerutti claimed a gold medal at their home Olympic Games, in Rio de Janeiro.
And then a strange thing happened.
All that magic appeared not to be entirely used up, but to be waning. Bruno and Alison played just seven events in 2017 and won one, which doesn’t seem like a bad season at all until you compare it to the two that came before it: 20 events, 10 wins, two silvers, nearly $400,000 in prize money.
In 2017 and 2018 combined, Bruno’s prize money barely cracked $60,000.
Where had the magic gone?
He’d tried to find it elsewhere, reuniting with Pedro Solberg, with whom he had no small measure of success earlier in his career, winning six medals in 13 events in 2013. The alchemy, though, wasn’t there. In eight events, they topped out with a best finish of fifth. Not bad for a typical player.
But it certainly couldn’t have been described as wizardy.
Another in the Brazilian system with abilities that verge on deific was also struggling through a similar nomadic, listless few seasons. Evandro Goncalves, whose Herculean serve has won him the title of Best Server for four consecutive seasons and counting, had won the World Championships with Andre Loyola in 2017 – and then was subsequently dropped, after, oddly, another win, in Itapema, Brazil, where they didn’t so much as lose a set.
Evandro sought answers in Vitor Felipe, and by all measures, they performed well. They took silver in their first event, in Warsaw, and made the quarterfinals in three of their next four. But something, it appeared, was just off enough for Evandro to look elsewhere.
To look for a little bit of magic.
The first tournament for Evandro and Bruno was not exactly a confidence-inspiring affair, a seventeenth in Doha where their only win would come over countrymen Alvaro Filho and Ricardo Santos. The next, in Xiamen, was much the same: Three matches, one win, over Australian qualifiers Christopher McHugh and Zachery Schubert.
One month later came the spark. The first sign that some semblance of magic had returned. A finals appearance in Jinjiang, Bruno’s first in 19 events played. They lost, as most do, to Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, who are titans — or Vikings, as they proclaim — in their own right. A week later, in Ostrava, Bruno’s and Evandro’s only loss would come at the hands of Russians Oleg Stoyanovskiy and Viacheslav Krasilnikov, who are currently No. 1 in the Olympic rankings for Tokyo 2020.
Two tournaments, just two losses, to the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the world. Something was working. The potions being stirred just right, the incantations being pronounced properly. Something.
Two weeks later they were at it again. Beating Germany. Beating Latvia. Beating Russia. Beating Russia again.
Beating, incredibly, improbably, those Norwegians who hadn’t lost a tournament in more than a month.
A gold medal. A gold medal despite a 21-11 drubbing in the first set in which Bruno looked nothing like a wizard and very much like an everyday muggle. He made errors. He was blocked. Dug. Erred again.
And then they came roaring back, and Bruno was suddenly playing like the Bruno of 2013, of 2014, of 2015 and 2016.
He was playing like the man bestowed with the nickname of The Wizard, winning the second two sets, 21-17, 15-12 for his first gold medal since May of 2017 with Alison.
World Championships now loom ahead, and it is quite a delight for beach volleyball fans to recognize that Bruno’s is a name that could very well content for the year’s highest title.
The Wizard hasn’t lost his powers just yet.
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