Zurich, Switzerland, May 9, 2015 – “I came, I saw, I conquered.” This famous quote from Julius Caesar could be equally suited to the young Brazilian star Gabi Braga Guimarães, also known as “Gabi”. The Rexona AdeS wing spiker is without a doubt one of the biggest stars in international volleyball – and at just 20 years old she has a bright future ahead of her.
However, Gabi didn’t start her sports career in volleyball, but in tennis.
“My father has always played tennis, so I started to train – but not only tennis,” she explained. ”I also practiced swimming, football, and other kinds of sport.”
The Belo Horizonte native was a promising tennis junior, but she was introduced to volleyball and something changed.
“I had already won some national tennis tournaments, when I suddenly came in touch with volleyball because some of my friends always played it after school – I tried it out and fell in love with it.”
This was the beginning of an incredible career. Gabriela Braga Guimarães missed out on playing for Belo Horizonte, rejected because she was considered “too short”.
But the wing spiker didn’t give up and eventually caught the attention of Mackenzie Esporte Clube, earning a place on the regional and national juniors teams in 2008 – a breakthrough moment for her volleyball career.
“It was just after Bejing 2008. I had been playing for six months in the junior national team when I met Sheilla and the other players – that was the moment I decided to focus on volleyball.”
It was a choice that was ratified in 2012 when Brazilian coaching legend Bernardinho Rezende and Rio de Janeiro contracted her at the age of 16. Gabi went on to win the Brazilian Superliga in the same year and become a national idol. Everybody wanted to know how such a young player could compete with some of Brazil’s biggest volleyball legends.
Gabi eventually came into the international fold, making her debut for the national team in 2012 at the FIVB Grand Prix. This and her first outing at the FIVB Volleyball Women’s Club World Championship with Rio de Janeiro two years ago provided the star with two very special moments.
“It all happened so fast – but more experienced players like Fofão and Sheilla really helped me,” she said. “I’m glad that Bernardinho and Zé Roberto gave me the opportunities to prove myself.
“Sheilla Castro has always been my big idol – not only in volleyball, but in general. Playing with her on the court is just unbelievable.”
Gabi is now a star in her own right and keeps adding to her honour list, the latest being the Best Scorer award in the Brazilian Superliga – becoming the youngest player in history to claim the title.
But expectations a year out from a home Olympics are high, a fact not lost on Gabi.
“Our fans want us to get a third consecutive gold medal at the Olympics – we don’t want to disappoint them, but I don’t feel a lot of pressure,” she revealed. “I’m still young and keen to improve myself. I just want to play my best volleyball – and make the team since it would be my first-ever appearance at the Olympic Games.”
However, Gabi still has a nagging feeling about whether she might have succeeded had she continued with her tennis career.
“I’ve always loved tennis – I enjoy playing it with my father in my spare time. And sometimes the question pops up in my mind if I would have made it to the Olympics if I’ve had decided to play tennis – but now I’ve got the opportunity to make it with the Brazilian volleyball national team.”
Before all that, however, there is the small matter of the FIVB Volleyball Women’s Club World Championships and redemption. She lost out in the gold medal match against VakifBank Istanbul with Rio de Janeiro two years ago, and the wound is yet to heal.
“This loss really hurt,” she explained. “We had the opportunity to get the first-ever gold medal for Rio de Janeiro, but couldn’t seize it. We are keen to do it better for our captain Fofão this year – she deserves this gold medal.”
The first big challenge for hurdle for operation “golden goodbye” is Eczacibasi VitrA Istanbul, reigning European Champions League winner, in the semifinals.