LONDON - As they stepped onto the podium Saturday at Earls Court, the U.S. and Brazil were dressed appropriately for the presentation of Olympic medals in women's volleyball. The Americans wore somber black from head to toe, while the Brazilians' gold jackets matched the accessories they were about to receive.
Brazil roared back from a drubbing in the first set to stun the United States -- the No. 1 team in the world -- and capture its second consecutive Olympic gold medal. The Americans were firmly in control at the outset, winning the first set 25-11. Then Brazil adjusted its tactics, the U.S. could not keep pace and the Brazilians kept gaining steam as they won the next three sets 25-17, 25-20, 25-17.
The outcome matched that of 2008, when the Americans also lost to Brazil 3-1 in the gold medal match at the Beijing Olympics. Most U.S. players managed at least a momentary, halfhearted smile as silver medals again were draped around their necks -- except for former Gopher Lindsey Berg. She reiterated Saturday that she is retiring from her sport after a 10-year career with the U.S. team, while coach Hugh McCutcheon will begin his tenure as coach of the Gophers at the end of the month.
Berg, the U.S. captain, finally smiled just a little as she walked off a volleyball court for the final time, holding her Olympic bouquet aloft. In a teary postgame news conference, she said Saturday's painful loss will not dampen the pride she feels.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed, but it was an incredible run,'' said Berg, a three-time Olympian who will be inducted into the Gophers' M Club Hall of Fame this fall. "I'm proud of my team. I have no regrets.
"I'm content with what I've accomplished with my teammates, and personally, I'm ready to move on. It's been incredible. And if I went back, I wouldn't change a thing."
Berg and McCutcheon both said they were not upset by the conduct of Brazil's players and fans. Throughout the match, the heavily pro-Brazilian crowd of 13,500 booed and whistled derisively every time the Americans served. The players staged an uninhibited celebration, dancing and jumping on the podium.
Nor were they upset by the Americans' effort. The loss was only the second for the United States in 32 matches this year and its first in the Olympic tournament.
Brazil had been ranked No. 1 in the world for four years before ceding that position to the U.S. in late 2011. It quickly fell behind the Americans in Saturday's opening set. Berg helped her team dictate the rhythm of play as it took a 19-7 lead.
While the U.S. looked assured and sharp, Brazil repeatedly misfired on spikes and looked out of sync. Its hitting became much more accurate in the second set -- and once it got on a roll, it seized control. The Americans tied it 12-12, but the Brazilians ran off five consecutive points and never trailed again in the set.
Their fearsome trio of Fabiana Claudino, Jaque Carvalho and Sheilla Castro pounded the ball at the Americans, who never led in the third or fourth sets.
"It's the first time we haven't had control this whole tournament," Berg said. "They were building this momentum, and we were always playing catch-up..''
Berg and McCutcheon leave the U.S. program without winning the first Olympic gold medal in its history but with plenty of other achievements to fill their hearts. "We didn't finish the way we all hoped to finish, but we were on the Olympic podium," McCutcheon said.
"We're sad. But I don't think there's any reason not to hold our heads high."