Crash And Learn
A crash. A concussion. An 11th-place finish. Stacey Cook has reversed course from that disappointment at the Vancouver Olympics and is pointing toward Sochi with optimism. Caple »Alexander Klein/AFP/Getty Images
What better way to preview the 2016 Rio Olympics than testing out Copacabana Beach? That's exactly what the top four U.S. men's and women's beach volleyball teams are doing this weekend when they face off against Brazil in a team event in Rio de Janeiro through March 1. Here are some of the athletes' first impressions of the Olympic city and the match action so far:
My partner, Jen Kessy, and I started practicing together in mid-January. It’s somewhat frustrating to be out there because our intentions with the ball are good, but they are not as crisp as we’d like them to be. We’re playing one game to 21, and if you aren’t ready, it’s tough. When you get done playing, our bodies are so used to playing and then you feel like you still have energy left -- you want to keep going.
The coolest thing about being in Rio? I love that we are Team USA. We don’t get many opportunities where we can all root for one another. On the world tour, we are competing for ourselves as much as we are for Team USA because we’re all vying for Olympic spots. Here, there is no pressure with Olympic qualification; everyone is cheering for one another. That’s special, that’s not something we get all the time.
After one of my first hits went down pretty hard, I turned to Emily and said: “Wow, I can still do that!” It’s surprising sometimes; I thought for sure I was going to get blocked. The ball went down hard and I was super fired-up. I still got it -- it’s just going to take a little longer to get back.
There is definitely heat to contend with here. The thing about the heat is that it’s the same for both teams. The Brazilians train in this every day, but they’re still hot, and sweat. I’m never worried about the heat. I personally like it when it’s hot or really cold because I feel like we can outlast other people. We played at night and it was no issue. We came out here a couple days early to get used to it; we trained twice a day in dead heat and got better with every training session.
Off the sand, we hiked Sugarloaf Mountain and that was wonderful. We trained twice at the army base and then went to the gym afterward. It’s at the bottom of Sugarloaf, and everything is so beautiful. You’re in the culture and you don’t feel like a tourist much because you’re in the mix. I appreciate that.