New York, July 12, 2017 - At the end of 2016, after missing his first Olympics since 2000, Brazilian superstar Ricardo Santos resurfaced in Florida where he has taken on a new job, a new home, and a new circuit: the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP), the U.S. domestic tour.
In fact, just last weekend in San Francisco, he finished third with four-time US (indoor) Olympian Reid Priddy while Ricardo’s regular partner, Chaim Schalk, was competing on the FIVB tour. Ricardo, 42, will probably be back on the international circuit, though – and if all goes well, we might see him and his 20-year-old son, Pedro, on opposite sides of the net. (Don’t laugh; it happened once before.)
During a break in the action at the AVP event in New York last month, the seven-time world and Olympic medalist spoke about all these transitions and what the future may hold.
QUESTION - Your last Olympics were in 2012; what’s been happening since then?
RICARDO - I kept playing. I tried to get a position for the Rio Olympic Games. Brazil only qualified two teams, and I was the third team with Emanuel [Rego, a five-time Olympian in beach volleyball who won 2004 gold and 2008 bronze with me]. After the first match, there are no substitutions, so I worked as a commentator for SporTV, a Brazilian channel. After the Olympics, I played the national championships in Brazil with Andre [Loyola Stein] but once I decided to move to the United States, I wasn’t allowed to leave until I had a green card and all the documents necessary. So it was difficult to keep in the media. I didn’t even play the first two rounds of AVP because I needed the documents to play for this league. I just started now.
Ricardo Santos and Pedro Cunha in action at the London 2012 Olympic Games
QUESTION - When did you move to the U.S.?
RICARDO - I moved to Orlando, Florida, on December 13, 2016. My whole family came except my older son, Pedro, because he’s playing the national beach volleyball circuit in Brazil. He’s ranked seventh, so he’s going to meet his father [on the court] in the future. I have three kids. The other boy, Nicolas, is 6, and my daughter Giulia, is 14. My wife is Luciana.
QUESTION - Why Orlando?
RICARDO - The climate is similar to Brazil and the cost of living is much cheaper than, say, California. Before I moved, I also talked to a director of a club in Orlando (called OTVA) that has 14 indoor volleyball courts and five beach volleyball courts. I did a partnership with them so I have all the structure to practice there. I’m the director of beach volleyball. I also coach some young athletes. We started two months ago and we already have 60 athletes. So it was the climate, costs, and the structure I would have.
QUESTION - Did that business partnership enable you to get your green card that allowed you to play AVP?
RICARDO - No, I got my green card because I’m an Olympic player and I got it for extraordinary abilities. It doesn’t expire. It’s permanent.
QUESTION - Very cool about your son Pedro. Did you coach him at all?
RICARDO - We used to practice together but we can’t anymore since I came to the U.S.. I try to help him when I can, but I don’t want to tell him what to do with his life. Since I’m a player who’s known all around the world, there’s already a lot of pressure on him. I don’t want to add more pressure. My son should decide on his own if he wants to be a volleyball player. If you do it, do it because it’s your wish.
Ricardo and son Pedro on opposite sides of the net at the Sao Jose leg of the Brazil Beach Volleyball World Tour in December
QUESTION - How did you pick Chaim Schalk as your primary AVP partner?
RICARDO - Chaim reached out to me because he knew I was living in Orlando. We already played against each other in the beach volleyball World League so I knew he was a good player. I decided to try it, but I only got my authorization to play on [June 6] and got [to New York on June 7]. We never practiced together before that. [We made the semifinals in our first tournament.] I know Chaim will sometimes have FIVB tournaments at the same time, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to play all the AVP tournaments but I want to.
QUESTION - What are Chaim’s strengths and weaknesses?
RICARDO - As a partner from AVP, I can tell you but as a competitor for FIVB, I don’t want to say because then he’s going to get better and it will be harder to beat him. (Ha ha) He has a really positive energy and he’s always constant; he doesn’t fall in the middle of the game. I don’t have to push him. He’s always there for me. And he withstands pressure really well. So if the game is tied and we need to score, he can do it. He doesn’t feel the pressure, basically. The bad part is that he doesn’t speak Portuguese.
QUESTION - How do you two communicate on the court?
RICARDO - [Ricardo makes signs and laughs.] In the middle of the game, there’s not a lot you need to tell someone. It’s basically the signs and expressions that can [convey] what you want to do.
QUESTION - Will you play more FIVB events this year? Your last one was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with Harley Marques on February 11; you placed 25th.
RICARDO - I want to play a couple of them, but not all of them because if I’ve got to play AVP, FIVB, and also some Brazilian tournaments, it’s just too much for my body.
Ricardo Santos and Harley Marques at the Fort Lauderdale Major in February
QUESTION - Have you qualified for the FIVB World Championships that start on July 28?
RICARDO - No, and I didn’t even try because I was in the process of getting my green card. I wasn’t allowed to leave the U.S., and I didn’t even know if I would be able to go.
QUESTION - Will this be the first World Championships you’ve ever missed?
RICARDO - Yes. [Ricardo makes a sad face.] I’ve played [four] finals in World Championships [since 1999].
QUESTION - Looking back on your career, which moments have been most meaningful?
RICARDO - The most important moment for me would be the  Olympic Games, of course, the gold medal. But I cannot leave out the tournament I played in Copacabana, Brazil, in 1998, one of the [marquee] events on the world circuit. I played with Ze Marco, who won the World Tour twice, but they didn’t qualify him so we had to play qualification rounds. We played [nine] matches in [six] days. It was insane. In the end, we beat Emanuel, one of my [future] partners [and Loiola in the final]. It was a week before Carnival and, in Carnival, I couldn’t do anything without people stopping me and asking for pictures. It was the first time that Brazil actually recognized me as a player. From that moment, I started my life as a professional athlete.
QUESTION - Any moments you’d like to forget?
RICARDO - The worst moment was coming back from the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. I got inside the plane and there was a Brazilian newspaper headline that said: Brazil Disappoints Again. It was about my game, because we lost [gold to Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana of the U.S.] This was the headline, and it was the first time I lost to them. Over all, Brazil didn’t get any gold medals there – only silver and bronze.
QUESTION - How much longer do you want to play?
RICARDO - A long time. I promise that I’m going to retire with my son, so I still have a long way to go because my son’s only 20. I already played an official tournament against him. It was the last tournament that I played in Brazil, in 2016. They made this the last game of the competition so all the athletes could watch. All the athletes were cheering for my son to beat the father.
QUESTION - Who won?
RICARDO - [Ricardo stretches his arms out wide, shrugs, and grins – as if you had to ask.]