By Luiza Moscoso, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian Olympic gold medalist, world champion, and Carioca player Sandra Pires said goodbye to her career in beach volleyball the best way possible – with victory.
The Gringo Times spoke with the Olympic champion on Tuesday, April 21st, just a few hours after she had played her last professional match, defeating the American double Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs in straight sets, 2-0, during the World Tour first stop, in Brasília.
“I was calm and didn’t concentrate on winning. I was more worried about the celebration and just wanted (to have) a good presentation, didn’t want to feel embarrassed, as I haven’t practiced a lot lately”, said Sandra, who played with partner Talita Antunes.
And Sandra achieved her goal, retiring with a strong performance, and a very rewarding victory: “I respect the Americans (Branagh and Youngs) a lot and I know they respect me. I know Youngs very well and she has followed my career closely. I wanted to show that, although I’m retiring, I am still in a good shape”.
Considered the world’s best beach volleyball player during the 1990’s, title given by the Volleyball International Federation (FIVB), Sandra retires as one of the most awarded players in the sport. Winner of two Olympic medals (gold in 1996 and bronze in 2000), three World Tour titles (1995, 1996 and 2003), one World Championship title in 1997 and a Goodwill Games title in 2001, she also has numerous victories in Brazilian competitions: two National Circuit titles (1995 and 1998) and three Rainha da Praia (Queen of the Beach) crowns, in 2000, 2001 and 2009. The athlete is also the only Brazilian woman in History who carried the national flag during an Olympics opening parade.
The newly retired Sandra believes Brazilian beach volleyball is going through a renovation period, which could affect the results in the next Olympics: “The girls are still too raw, there’s a lack of experience in this new generation. A good or bad Brazilian performance in 2012 (London Olympics) will also depend on how prepared the other players are, but I think Brazil will have better chances to win in 2016”.
Sandra’s main focus right now is slowing down a bit, although she already has plans for the future. She intends to go back to school and finish a Bachelor in Physical Education, as well as get involved with social work. She also plans to dedicate more time to working as sports commentator, a field she has already explored and really enjoyed.
At the age of 35, and after 18 years dedicated to volleyball, Sandra retires knowing she’ll miss her friends and the sport’s competitiveness. Even though she admits she won’t miss a lot of other things: “I’m sure I won’t miss the extenuating routine, the practices, the never-ending trips… It’s too tiresome”.