The sixth and final match of Day 1 of women’s volleyball at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 went in favour of two-time Olympic winners Brazil, following their straight-set win over South Korea on Sunday at the Ariake Arena.

As the players exited the court, the captains of both squads – Natalia Pereira of Brazil and Kim Yeon Koung of South Korea – met at the middle of the court to congratulate each other.

For the second time in almost two years during the pandemic, these two volleyball stars met on the court representing their national teams following their matchup at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball Nations League.

Natalia and Kim became friends when they played together for Turkish club Fenerbahce and the rest is history.

“I’ve known Kim as an athlete and a very famous player in the world because we have competed against each other,” Natalia said.

“But the first time I got to know her personally was in 2016 when we played together for Fenerbahce. Since the first year, because she’s really a nice girl who likes to crack jokes, we clicked and really had a good relationship on and off the court. Fortunately, I had that honour again to play with her at Eczacibasi in 2019.”

But with or without the pandemic, these two players kept their friendship going.

“We are still good friends. We always speak to each other whether on chat or on the phone. She is really my best friend in volleyball, and I know that I can trust her for the rest of my life. That’s how great friendship is.”

The two close friends have met many times in competition as rivals, but they have shown a lot of class and mutual respect regardless of the outcome of their encounters. Natalia always admired Kim for her great talent, but what she appreciates more is the Korean outside hitter’s level-headedness.

“I was always a big fan because she is one of the best players in the world, but I became a bigger fan of hers after I got to know her. As time went by, we grew older, but she remained the same Kim I knew since I met her.

“I told her when we played last season together that whenever I thought of one good player that I wanted to be like, it was her. For me she is one of the best and will always be the best.”

Since playing together, simple activities together are the most special and cherished moments for Natalia.

“We have so many great moments. When we played together, we would go out and eat in restaurants. Sometimes we would eat sushi and stay in the restaurant for hours just talking, joking and just laughing a lot. For me all of these were good memories and all of them were amazing.”

Natalia and Kim are both playing in their third Olympic Games. Natalia won a gold medal at London 2012, while Kim got close to a final four finish in the same edition.