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2014-07-16

Beach volleyball legend Larissa returns to action and targets gold at Rio 2016

After retiring following bronze medal at London 2012 Games, veteran is back with new partner and an eye on Olympic qualification

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Larissa won the bronze medal with Juliana at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Photo: Getty Images/Ryan Persie)

Brazilian beach volleyball legend Larissa França retired from the sport four months after winning the bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games. But the pull of the sand – particularly on Copacabana Beach – proved too strong. Six months from the start of the qualification period for the Rio 2016 Games, the two-time Pan American Games champion, known simply as Larissa, returned to the court on Wednesday (July 16) in pursuit of the greatest prize of her career: Olympic gold.

“The chance to compete in the Olympic Games at home is every athlete’s dream and it’s no different in my case,” said the 32-year-old defender, who took a step back from sport to focus on her personal life. “Playing in the 2007 Pan Am Games in Rio was wonderful. The force and energy of Brazilian fans is impossible to describe. That’s why I’ve come back – I really want to secure a berth for 2016 and represent my country at the Games at home.”

Larissa competed in London alongside Juliana Felisberta, with whom she was seven-times FIVB World Tour winner and won the 2011 world championship. At the Beijing 2008 Games, Juliana was injured so Larissa competed with Ana Paula Henkel, finishing fifth.

Without the injured Juliana, Larissa competed with Ana Paula in Beijing and placed fifth (Image:Getty Images/Harry How)

For her comeback, Larissa’s partner will be the experienced Talita Antunes, 31, the current World Tour champion, who also represented Brazil at the Beijing and London Olympic Games. The pair will play their first match on Wednesday in the World Circuit event in the Hague, Netherlands, and will have until January 2015 to prepare to compete for Olympic qualification. There is one berth available at the world championship, 15 through world rankings and seven in continental and international qualifcation tournaments.

“I hadn’t been thinking of coming back,” Larissa said. “It was just that I started to feel the urge, and then the possibility of forming a team with Talita came up. We are a great pair and I believe that we have several positive characteristics that could make us a champion team. But it’s on the court that favourites are developed and titles are won. We’re going to train hard to earn our spot.”

One of the most experienced players on the circuit, Larissa has won 45 World Tour events and believes she is returning even stronger after her time away from the sport.

“The break was good for me. I was in need of some rest time. I took care of myself and followed my dreams and wishes. I spent more time with my family and took care of the things I hadn’t had time for because of the fast-paced life of an athlete, especially my marriage. Now I have renewed energy to come back.”

Reinvigorated and motivated, Larissa is now focused on winning gold on home sand in 2016, when the sport will be contested on Copacabana Beach. “Without a doubt, it would be a milestone in my career,” she said. “It would be perfect to write this chapter. Winning an Olympic gold alongside my family and friends would be indescribable. I will do everything I can to bring home this medal for my team and for all of Brazil.”

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