COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (May 31, 2008) – With former International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch in attendance for the SWATCH FIVB World Tour women's final on Saturday at the Plaça Carles Buïgas, the U.S. beach volleyball team Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs completed "a remarkable comeback" to capture the gold medal at the US$350,000 Hyundai Open Barcelona on the steps in front of the National Museum of Art of Catalunya.
With their 2-0 (21-18, 21-14) win in 40 minutes over fourth-seeded Talita Antunes and Renata Ribeiro, the second seeded Branagh (Orinda, Calif.) and Youngs (El Toro, Calif.) successfully rebounded from an opening-day defeat to a team from Cuba to win five-straight elimination matches to reach the semifinals, where the Americans defeated two teams from Brazil.
It was Branagh and Youngs' first SWATCH FIVB gold medal as a team and the victory improved their standing for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games where the Americans are currently ranked sixth with 4,120 points for their best eight international finishes since May of 2007. The U.S. teams of Jen Boss (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.) and April Ross (Costa Mesa, Calif.) and Tyra Turner (Fort Meyers Beach, Fla.) and Rachel Wacholder (Laguna Beach, Calif.) have been gaining ground on Branagh and Youngs.
"Right now I am feeling great," said Youngs, who captured the bronze medal at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games with Holly McPeak. "I know tomorrow when we travel back to the United States we'll feel the pain of playing nine matches in four days. This is a great victory for us, especially since these points are very important for qualifying for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. The difference today was our service game along with keeping the pressure on the Brazilians through the match. Our goal was to win one point at a time and never let up."
In addition to becoming only the second team to bounce back from a setback in the second-round of the loser’s bracket to win a SWATCH FIVB World Tour gold medal, Branagh and Youngs shared the $28,000 first-place check. Branagh also had seven of the top eight serves in the Hyundai Open Barcelona with her best SWATCH service being 51 miles per hour.
While Branagh was named the SWATCH most outstanding player for the inaugural Hyundai Open Barcelona, Youngs became the oldest women to win an "open" FIVB event. At 38 years, three months and 16 days, Youngs surpassed the previous mark set in July 1998 at a SWATCH FIVB World Tour stop in Portugal by compatriot Linda Hanley (38 years, one month, 25 days).
After losing 2-1 (17-21, 21-12, 15-7) to 15th-seeded Milagros Crespo and Imara Esteves Ribalta of Cuba Wednesday, Branagh and Youngs won their last seven matches to net their first SWATCH FIVB World Tour title in their 15th international event together. While Branagh was capturing her first SWATCH title, Youngs was advancing to the top of a FIVB podium for the 12th-time with her fourth different partner.
Youngs’ last SWATCH title came in 2004 with McPeak in Norway as three Americans teams filled the Stavanger podium. Six of Youngs’ FIVB titles were with McPeak, three gold medals with Masakayan and two crowns with Barbra Fontana, who was Hanley’s partner at the 1998 Espinho.
Four of Branagh and Youngs’ wins this week were over teams from Brazil, including a 2-1 (22-20, 14-21, 15-13) victory in 62 minutes over top-seeded Juliana Felisberta Silva and Larissa Franca. The Americans are now 3-1 in SWATCH matches against Renata and Talita, who shared the $19,500 second-place prize.
Sunday’s finale was the 72nd-time Brazil and the United States have competed for a SWATCH FIVB World Tour women’s gold medal. The Americans now lead the gold medal series 43-29. While Talita and Renata are 0-2 in title meetings with Americans for the top spot on a FIVB podium, Youngs is 3-4 in SWATCH gold medal matches against teams from the South American country.
In the bronze-medal match, Juliana and Larissa won their fourth medal in five SWATCH starts this season by defeating seventh-seeded Vassiliki Arvaniti and Vasso Karadassiou of Greece 2-0 (21-14, 21-14) in 36 minutes. FIVB winners in Australia and Japan this season, Juliana and Larissa shared $14,000 for third-place with the Greeks splitting $10,500.
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