TOKYO (AFP) – When Jordan Larson and Folke Akinradio Gunderson vowed to compete in a third Olympics, this moment was what he had in mind.
Two of the best US volleyball players of their generation will conclude their Olympic careers with a shot at Americans’ first-ever gold medal in the sport.
After winning two silver and one bronze medals at the former three Olympics, the Americans will confront Brazil on Sunday in the gold medal match. The United States lost in the finals to Brazil in 2008 and 12.
“We’re not done yet,” Akinradio Gunderson said following his semi-final triumph over Serbia. “We are excited that we have a chance to triumph the gold medal. It just shows that when you put it all in, when you concern about each other, when you put others in fore of you, pleasing things can happen.”
There has been a lot of work since that agonizing loss to Serbia in the 2016 semi-finals, with players like Akinradio Gundersson and Larsson playing throughout the year for clubs abroad and the national team without any breaks.
Akinradio Gunderson spent time away from court following giving birth to her first child in November 2019. Then the grueling process of getting back into shape following developing a severe case of diastole rectus during her pregnancy, which left a 9cm parting, began. Her “six-pack” muscles in her stomach were big enough to fit into a fist.
A year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic has given her more time to get back in shape, and now she’s playing her best volleyball in the tournament heading into the final.
“There were definitely firm times in my comeback,” she said. “I was breastfeeding in the garage and all that stuff. It was a trip back. But I was sure to do it. Part of my desire to do this was I just wanted other moms to know that it was conceivable.”
Larsson has played professionally in Turkey and China since the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro and got almost no breaks until the pandemic hit. After that, she mostly lifts weights and rides her peloton bike.
She went two months without jumping, which she said now benefits her 34-year-old body, and hasn’t touched a ball for about three months.
As captain, she played a big role in the decision to hire a unused performance coach, previous UCLA football coach Sue Enquist, who led the monthly Zoom Players Only calls she credits making players focus more on the team than the individual.
Now she has one more chance to make her mark on the show.
“I dealt with a lot of those feelings prior I came here. How do I want to leave my legacy and what do I want to leave behind?” Larson said. “I’ve done a lot already. I’ve been competent to play at the highest level for a really lengthy time, and I’ve done it to the best of my aptitude. At the end of the day, that’s all I hope for, is to sleep well at night knowing I’ve done everything I can. I think that’s What will our next match be?
The journey to this point has been a lengthy one for a US women’s team that started more than 40 years ago when the 1980 Olympic team made the decision to start year-round training, only to be denied the opportunity to compete because of the US-led boycott of the Games in Moscow.
But the groundwork has been laid, and the Americans are now assured of their sixth medal in the former 10 Olympics, tied with China for the most in that span. They won three silvers and two bronzes. All that is missing is gold.
“Someone once said there is a lot of pressure because the United States has never won, but there is no pressure,” Larson said. “We’ve never done that. So why don’t you come out swinging? I think we’ll go out and try and do our best, swing as firm as we can, chase her and go take her.”
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