International Volleyball

George Wanderley, Brazil’s top defender, seeks an Olympic podium

George Wanderley, Brazil's top defender, seeks an Olympic podium

GSTAAD, Switzerland — George Wanderley still had a tournament to play, but before playing a single point or even warming up for their first match, he had already accomplished something far bigger than anything he could possibly achieve during May’s Brasilia Elite16.

The moment Pedro Salgado and Guto Carvalhaes didn’t show for their qualifier match on the Wednesday preceding the main draw, George and Andre Loyola officially punched their ticket to the Paris Olympic Games. The Olympian title was something he had been envisioning since before he was a teenager, a moniker he had narrowly missed out on in 2021 and had alas put on his resume, able to represent Brazil on the highest stage of the sport.

And now he was supposed to focus on … pool play?

“It was kind of hard because we still had the tournament to play so we couldn’t celebrate or do anything about it,” George said from his hotel balcony at last week’s Gstaad Elite16. The evening provided a muted celebration. He called his wife. Grabbed dinner with his father, George’s unimpeachable supporter who had made the 1,400 mile trek to Brasilia from their home in Joao Pessoa.

“It was a mix of focusing on the tournament and celebrating at the same time,” George said. “We were really happy but after we settled, we said ‘OK, we need to work more. We want to get a medal in the Olympics.’ We were happy, and then next step.”

It’s fitting that George’s father, Americo, was there. He was the man who pushed his son in all the ways a parent should. He was the one who built a court at their house, attracting one Brazilian great after the next: Ricardo Santos and Emanuel Rego, Harley Marques and Pedro Cunha, Alison and Bruno. He was the reason George had a beach volleyball in his hand as early as the age of 7, never veering to the indoor side of the game. And he was the reason George, at just 19, hit the World Tour for the first time, understanding full well that his son, talented as he may be for his age, the youngest to ever medal on the Brazilian Tour, would “get my ass kicked,” George said, laughing.

And he did.

Lost in the qualifier in his first even on the pro tour, and in three straight country quotas the year after. Never once did George or Americo consider pausing the breakneck pace of his development, or pulling his support, be it financial or emotional. They both knew the invaluable education that comes with experience….

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