Bruno took his body beyond its limits in order to compete at the Tokyo Games

A popular Brazilian saying states that “after the storm comes the calm”, and it's something Rio 2016 Olympic champion Bruno Schmidt certainly wants to believe. After the toughest year of his life in 2021, the 35-year-old defender is ready to return to the courts this weekend and start and a new (and hopefully less troubled) chapter of his career with new partner Saymon Barbosa.

The year of 2021 was supposed to be a great one for Bruno. He had a solid partner in world champion Evandro Goncalves, their team were among the favourites when the year started, and Bruno would attempt to become the first back-to-back Olympic champion in men’s beach volleyball. But that all changed in February.

Bruno had a severe case of COVID-19 and spent 13 days in hospital, five of which were in intensive care. He recovered well but lost weight and started a race against time to compete at Tokyo in a process that included skipping several tournaments and overworking his body. The plan was put into action and he and Evandro finished ninth in Japan. But it came at a high cost to the Brazilian defender.

“2021 was really demanding on my body,” he said. “I’m glad I made it through everything I faced, but it was by far the most complicated year of my life. I did all I could to be in good shape for the Olympics after having COVID, but all that work worsened a knee injury I had. It was weird only playing in four international events last year, but I did what I had to do.”

The injury meant Bruno did not play in any events after Tokyo. The Brazilian decided to have surgery on his right knee and skipped the FIVB World Tour and Brazilian Tour tournaments scheduled in the second half of 2021.

After six months in which he took time to rehab his knee and regain his form – and also to dedicate more time to his law school commitments - Bruno, the World Tour's Most Outstanding Player in 2015 and 2016, feels re-energized and ready to return to the sand.

“This is the longest I’ve ever been away from the courts,” he said. “I felt that my knee injury was only getting worse, so it was time to take a break and treat it. After so many years playing I found out that there’s something better than winning... and that’s playing without pain. I want to make sure things continue that way. Being away from the courts for so long has reignited my desire to play and made me very motivated to return.”

When he does return, Bruno will have a new partner by his side in Saymon, a 28-year-old blocker, who has won eight medals, including two golds, in seven years competing internationally. The two are currently in Vila Velha preparing for the upcoming season, which will be highlighted by the inaugural edition of the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour.

Before the international event starts in March, the pair will be working on their chemistry and rhythm as partners. Their first tournament together will be the fourth stop of the South American Tour this weekend, in Vina del Mar, Chile. The Brazilians enter the event as favourites, alongside Chilean cousins Marco and Esteban Grimalt and Argentinean brothers Nicolas and Tomas Capogrosso.

“Saymon was an obvious choice for me,” Bruno added. “He’s an extremely competitive player and I believe our team can be really strong when it comes to blocking and defence. We thought the South American Tour was the perfect place for us to start. It’s not as competitive as international beach volleyball or even the Brazilian Tour, but the other countries are improving and if we want to win it, we’ll have to play well. It will be sort of a slower start for us, but one that will bring an interesting level of responsibility as well.”

One of the most accomplished beach volleyball players on the planet, Bruno has won 15 international gold medals, including one at the Rio 2016 Olympics and another at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in 2015.

With a healed knee and body, a new partner and a new international tournament to compete at, he feels like his career is starting again at the age of 35. And he knows exactly what the first victory he wants to celebrate is.

“I take it as a restart,” the Brazilian reflected. “After so long and all I’ve been through, I just want to be on the court again and see how well I can play. While everyone else is talking about the Olympics and winning gold medals as they should, right now all I want is to be a top player again. It’s a different kind of challenge now, it’s more of an internal battle to show myself that I still have what it takes to be the player I once was, and that motivates me in a huge way.”