Best on the Beach
Brendan Connor speaks to the King of Brazilian beach volleyball, Emanuel.
Last Modified: 23 Jul 2007 14:02 GMT

Brazilian players Emanuel Rego (L) and Ricardo Santos with their medals after winning Gold in the beach volleyball competiton during the XV Pan American Games [AFP]

There is really not much more for Emanuel Rego to accomplish in this sport.
He's played more than ten years on the professional tour, and has earned millions of dollars in prize money and sponsorships.
In fact, he's the player who's won the most tournaments, the most money, the most world championships.

It all culminated in 2004 when he and his current partner Ricardo Santos won the gold medal at the Athens Olympics.

Still, at age 34, he loves to play and continues this nomadic existence, flying around the world playing beach volleyball representing Brazil, and showing his skills. 

But the stakes are high, with the winning purse $22,000 on weekend professional tournaments.

So far on the 2007 edition of the world pro tour, Emanuel and Ricardo have won 4 times in 8 stops.

"It's really challenging this year on the tour. We are really being pushed. So many of these young guys are good now.  I think this year being an Olympic qualification period has made it very competitive, especially with these young teams."

Emanuel says even after all he's accomplished in the sport, the fact the young players are sometimes beating him, gives him reason to keep playing.

"This is the kind of motivation I need to keep playing.  When we lose sometimes, it reminds me there is always something to tweak about my preparation and performance. There is always something I can change in my game"

Emanuel, who, like many Brazilian sports stars, goes by just his first name, has seen a huge growth in the game he loves.

Humble beginnings

Coming from the public beaches of Brazil, he remembers playing entire weekend tournaments where the prize was little more than a T-shirt and a kit bag.

"I remember when I started playing. It was very hard to get any kind of sponsorship or support.  People and companies would say 'this is not a real sport'.

"But in the last 10 years or so, since it became an Olympic event,  now people know it more, and respect it more. Now it is extremely popular in Brazil, especially in Rio de Janeiro. It has really grown in these years."
With all that Emanuel has accomplished in his sport, one wonders if he gets enough respect and recognition. 

Champions.....again [GALLO/GETTY] 
Brazil's football stars are heroes throughout the country, but do people know who Emanuel and Ricardo are?

On the sporting map

"Brazil is and will always be about football. That will never change. It's the most popular and the most followed. 

"But I think after the gold medal we won in Athens, and the fact the men's indoor volleyball team also won gold,  it put our sport more on the map for Brazilians. 

"It helped it to be more known and more popular. I now see more families playing together on the beach. So yes, I think after the 2004 Olympics, our victory and the men’s indoor team's made it so everyone knows who Ricardo and Emanuel are."

This month, they returned to Brazil to take part in the beach volleyball competition at the 15th Pan American Games.

It's a multi-sport, Olympics-style competition involving over 5,000 athletes from more than 40 countries in the Americas. 

Worth more than money

To be there, Emanuel and Ricardo took some time off the lucrative World Tour, where players win big money, and also accumulate points to qualify for the Olympics.

They skipped an event or two to be in Rio, representing Brazil, and it was worth it, as they defeated an American duo in the gold medal match before a roaring, appreciative crowd at Copacabana Arena.

It may have cost them some winnings abroad, but Emanuel wouldn't have missed it.

"This was a difficult match, the Americans are young and strong and had no obligation to win. I'm very happy. Getting this medal in our home is a lot different from getting the Olympic medal in Athens", said Emanuel, who praised the Brazilian fans.

"I'm very proud of being a Brazilian".

Al Jazeera
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