RIO DE JANEIRO -- American volleyball player Taylor Sander said he didn't really notice the crowd noise Thursday night during his team's match against Brazil because he was "in a zone, and when you're in the zone, you don't really notice that kind of stuff."
If so, he was in a zone that included earplugs, noise-canceling headphones and the world's largest cone of silence because it was virtually impossible not to notice Thursday's boisterous crowd. It was so loud you probably could have heard back in the United States, even if you had Beyoncé playing at a full 11 on your earbuds.
Whereas other venues have often been half-full at these Olympics, the Maracanazinho volleyball arena swelled with fans who were tossing large beach balls around, swaying to the music, waving national flags, roaring for their team and shouting their Brazil chant again and again and again and again. Heck, they even were bouncing to the old hit "YMCA'' at one point. Granted, their chants of "YMCA'' weren't quite as loud as other things they shouted, but it is a 40-year-old song in English, after all.
"It was crazy, wild, incredible and just so fun,'' U.S player Erik Shoji said. "We took it that we were the underdogs and we knew the fans would be against us because we were playing Brazil. But it's crazy and it's loud and it's fun and it just helps give us energy out there. The noise just fires us up. It's the hardest thing in the word to play in a silent gym.
"There are some great atmospheres out there in the world, but Brazilian fans are really knowledgeable. Tonight was just a fun match and you could see they had a lot of fun out there.''
Well, the Brazilian fans had some fun, but they certainly did not go home quite as happy as when they arrived (especially considering the traffic jam outside the arena). That's because the U.S. team, which had lost its first two matches here, upset the top-ranked Brazilians 3-1. The Americans won the first two sets 25-20 and 25-23, lost the third 20-25 with a slightly sluggish performance, then dominated in the fourth to win 25-20.
Evidently, the fans did fire up the Americans, even if some players were in the zone.
"That's what we needed tonight,'' coach John Speraw said. "It's the Olympic Games and we hadn't been playing very well. In order to get a win against a great team, we had to fight for every point.''
In addition to the huge Brazilian crowd, there were some U.S. fans in the stands as well, holding up their flags and backing their country. But when they started a "U-S-A! U-S-A!'' chant, the Brazilian fans quickly booed them into silence.
"It was a little hostile but great,'' Matt Anderson said. "Brazil is a great place to play volleyball. The fans are so intense. They understand the game, so they know what's happening. There is so much emotion. You get it from the fans, you get it from the players, you get it from the other team, you get it from the coaches. Our caches are so animated. They're loud because they have to be loud [to be heard]. And it just creates a lot of energy.''
Now 1-2 and in fifth place in Pool A of the preliminary round, the U.S. takes on second-place France on Saturday. The atmosphere probably won't be as festive as it was Thursday, but it will be interesting to see how the Brazilian fans react to the American players after watching them beat their own country.
"Last year came here to play and it was situation that if we won a certain way, Brazil was out of the tournament, but if we lost they were still in it. We won and knocked them out,'' Anderson said. "Brazil has always cheered for us -- except when we play them, of course, -- but ever since then, they've been against us.''
Still, as Anderson and Shoji said, if they do get booed, everything will be fine ... just so long as they are booed loud enough to get fired up, even inside the zone.