Brazil's top women's beach volleyball pair loses Juliana

BEIJING -- Juliana Felisberta Silva, one-half of the top women's beach volleyball team from powerhouse Brazil and the No. 3 team in the world, pulled out of the Olympics on Wednesday because of an injury.

"It was the hardest decision of my career, and I'm suffering a lot to have to let go of my dream," Juliana said in a statement released by her management company and translated from Portuguese. "We fought during four years to get to the Olympics, and I won't be able to be by Larissa on the court."

By withdrawing before competition begins Saturday, she allows teammate Larissa Franca to remain in the Olympics with a new partner. The Brazilian Volleyball Confederation said Juliana will be replaced by Ana Paula, who had been on the country's third-best team.

With teammate Shelda Bede, Ana Paula finished eighth in qualifying for the 24-team Olympic women's tournament, but they were left out because of quotas that allow no more than two teams per country.

"Juliana had a very courageous and noble act," Larissa said. "It's not easy to make this decision after so many days of suffering and sacrifice. ... I'm sorry that she is not in condition to be by my side in this moment that we had dreamed so much for our careers."

Juliana and Larissa were third in international Olympic qualifying, but Juliana missed a month heading into the Olympics after injuring her right knee during a Grand Slam event in Paris in June. Doctors recommended surgery on her cruciate ligament, but she opted for a more conservative treatment and a knee brace in the hopes of playing in Beijing.

Last month, Juliana pronouncing herself ready for the final Grand Slam event of the season, saying she was pain-free and ready to play in Beijing. She was also confident in news reports after arriving in Beijing on Monday.

"I tried everything, grabbed all the possibilities given to me by the professionals who evaluated me, but unfortunately I reached my limit," Juliana said. "We knew that this could have happened, but we always worked with the expectation that I would play."

But in her last practice before the Olympics, she felt "pain and instability" in the knee.

"There was no more time for doubts, and the decision had to me mine," she said. "I thought a lot about it and realized that it wouldn't be fair to Larissa, the technical staff and the Brazilian people for me to play without the ideal conditions to do well in the Olympics."

Juliana's withdrawal does not spike Larissa's medal chances. Brazil has the deepest bench on the beach, with seven women's teams among the top 24 in the world and in position to qualify for the Summer Games if not for the country quota.

Still, even a small step down -- combined with the necessity of playing with a new partner on the sport's biggest stage -- could be what keeps the Brazilians from challenging Americans Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor for the gold medal.

"I know some people may question why I didn't make this decision earlier," Juliana said. "But I ask, 'Would someone give up their dream this easily, without fighting until the last minute?"