Emanuel Rego, the King of the Beach
Well toned, sporting a dark tan and about as cool a character as one can be, Emanuel Rego moves swiftly around a beach volleyball court exuding the confidence of the seasoned veteran that he is. Standing 190cm tall, the 38-year-old Brazilian superstar has played at every Olympic beach volleyball competition since Atlanta 1996 – the first time medals were awarded in the discipline. Along with partner Ricardo Santos, Rego served and spiked his way to a gold medal in Athens 2004 before the duo captured bronze four years later in Beijing.
Next summer’s Olympic Games will be Rego’s fifth, with beach volleyball being staged in central London’s Horse Guards Parade, near Downing Street and a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace.
“I think about the emotion of this and it gives me chills,” says Rego about London 2012. “When you’re playing at the Olympic Games, it’s hard to control your emotions, but especially when there is a really good atmosphere, with people watching in a special place such as the London venue. I think everything will be in place to have a really great event.”
The London beach volleyball venue: a special place
The historic site is home to the Trooping the Colour ceremony, held annually on the Queen’s birthday, and is also the former Headquarters of the British Army, making it a truly unique setting for the beach volleyball tournament. Instead of swords, the most dangerous weapons will be the open hands of the sport’s well-chiselled titans, who routinely rocket volleyballs towards their challengers at breakneck speeds.
“You talk about the British Army and I think we will be like warriors in London,” says Rego, with a hint of humour in his tone. “The players of beach volleyball are fighting against the sun, the sand, the wind and even against the opponents. It’s a real battle, where the teams who can adjust the best will win.”
London 2012 as a focus
The veteran volleyball star attributes much of his continued motivation to the enjoyment of playing with his current partner, Alison Cerutti – a 2.02m-tall 25-year-old with a muscular physique who is a highly imposing force at the net. Rego says that London has always been part of his game plan even though he will be nearly 40 by the time the Games start.
“Every time I think about the Olympic Games, I have the idea that I want to be there again,” he says. “When I wake up to train or play in a tournament, I think this is one more step to being there. As I’ve done at the four Games so far, I try to motivate myself every year and every hour that I train.”
And what if the Queen happens to take a leisurely stroll from Buckingham Palace to the Horse Guards Parade venue, just to catch a glimpse of these warriors of sport, as Rego likes to describe them?
“For sure, I’ll get nervous,” he says, regarding the possibility of a royal visit by the Queen. “I saw the marriage of her grandson, Prince William, and I think all of the planet stopped to see that. I think all of the planet will stop again to see her watching some beach volleyball. It will be fun, but also traditional.”
More battles with friendly rivals to come
In May, Rego and Cerutti broke the 40-match, seven-tournament winning streak of the dominant American duo Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhousser at an FIVB event in Prague. It is highly probable that the four friendly rivals will wage further battles in the future, perhaps even for gold in London.
“He’s really a good ambassador of the sport and one of the greatest of all-time,” says Rogers, the 2008 Olympic gold medallist, regarding Rego. “He takes the time to do the interviews, sign the autographs, kiss the babies and do that sort of thing.
“I’d put him up there with Karch and Sinjin,” continues Rogers, comparing the Brazilian to former American volleyball stars Karch Kiraly and Sinjin Smith. “He’s a pretty special player and he’ll definitely go down in my book as one of the top three.”
Although five years away, it is hard not to imagine Rego at home in Rio de Janeiro, playing on the beach where he began his professional career nearly 20 years ago, at the 2016 Olympic Games.
“We will see what happens in 2013 because if I keep playing I want to be very competitive,” says Rego about extending his career beyond London and possibly to a sixth Olympic Games. “I will feel my body and emotions, but right now, when I think about it, I cannot see myself playing until that age. But you never know. We are athletes, always improving with new challenges. I don’t know. It’s a challenging question.”
Maybe a coach in 2016?
If not in action, Rego hopes he can be in Rio to pass along his expertise to the next generation of players: "I dream about it because when I started to play beach volleyball, it was at Copacabana, where the Olympic Games will be held,” he says about the event, which will surely be one of the hottest tickets in 2016. “I want to be part of it even if I will only be there as a coach because the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will be awesome.”
For now, the Brazilian veteran appears to be 100 per cent focused and committed to his continued success – and perhaps even a third Olympic medal – leading up to what will surely be an unforgettable spectacle come late July and early August in 2012.
“With all of the world’s best players trying to be on top, as usual, the Olympic Games will have their surprises,” Rego adds. “But I think London will be even more emotional than all of the others.”