Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Olympic Games | Rio Arena is a “volleyball temple”

For USA’s Courtney Thompson, Maracanãzinho brings her National Team career full circle

USA women's indoor volleyball Olympic Schedule (all times Pacific)
  • Aug 06, 1:05PM vs. Puerto Rico
  • Aug 08, 11:00AM vs. Netherlands
  • Aug 10, 11:00AM vs. Serbia
  • Aug 12, 11:00AM vs. Italy
  • Aug 14, 1:05PM vs. China
  • Aug 16 Quarterfinals
  • Aug 18 Semifinals
  • Aug 20 Medal Finals

Coach Karch Kiraly and members of the USA National Team during their first practice at Maracanãzinho Arena
-photo courtesy USA Volleyball

It was mid-July, 2007. 22-year-old Courtney Thompson sat on a plane in Colorado, the first leg of a journey that would take the US National Team to the Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro. For Thompson, who had just graduated from the University of Washington, it was the first time she had been included on a National Team roster.

“This is so stinking cool,” said Thompson that day. We had reached her cellphone, just as the plane was boarding. “I just looked down and saw the letters ‘USA’ on my chest,” she told us in 2007. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

The 2007 Pan Am Games volleyball competition was held in Maracanãzinho Arena. Built in 1954, next door to Rio’s massive Maracanã soccer stadium (Maracanãzinho means “Little Maracanã”,) the arena had been extensively remodeled for the 2007 competition. Over the years, it has hosted scores of major—and memorable—volleyball matches.

“It’s the temple of volleyball,” USA head coach Karch Kiraly told us. Kiraly, who played many big international competitions there as a member of the US Men’s National Team says “that gym means volleyball. It’s a volleyball cathedral.”

USA Coach Karch Kiraly calls Rio's Maracanãzinho Arena "the temple of volleyball"

In the nine years since her first Maracanãzinho match, Thompson has been on the USA roster for 148 subsequent matches. Yesterday, however, was the first time she had set foot in the stories arena since 2007, as USA held its first pre-Olympic training session in Rio. Although Thompson played professionally for Rio’s Rexona-Ades last season, her team’s home matches were in another part of town.

“Although we didn’t play in Maracanãzinho,” says Thompson, “I went there and walked around the stadium and the arena. I sat outside and visualized competing in the Olympics.”

Thompson says these Olympic Games will be the last time she ever wears a USA jersey. “Oh, yeah, “she says, “I definitely feel that this is the right time to finish up. I’m very much over being away from friends and family. I love playing with the National Team. But playing overseas, being gone for nine months a year, I just have no enthusiasm around that anymore. I just want a community, and my friends and family. Also, volleyball is a huge part of me, but it’s not everything. I’m excited to figure out what’s next. To use my skills and see some other sides to me.”

For the next two weeks, the side the rest of us will see is Thompson and her teammates in Maracanãzinho. “We all love playing in Brazil,” she says, “so it’s gonna be incredible.”


The USA Volleyball women’s and men’s team are staying this week in the Olympic Village, making the long commute to Maracanãzinho for some of their training sessions. They will soon, however, move to a hotel closer to the arena, largely to avoid the traffic jams that can turn Rio commutes into a nightmare.

On Friday, teams will participate in the Opening Ceremonies in Maracanã soccer stadium. Because the teams will each enter the Ceremonies in the order of the Portuguese spelling of each nation’s name, USA will be relatively early, under the banner of “Estados Unidos.”

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