RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Bernardo Rezende might not be a household name like Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt or Rafael Nadal but in volleyball-mad Brazil the veteran coach cannot move around his native city without being stopped for autographs and selfies.
Taking part in his ninth Olympics, the Rio-born 56-year-old known as Bernardinho or “little Bernardo” due to his modest stature in a game played by giants, is the most successful volleyball coach of all time with over 30 major titles.
Now Bernardinho, who has achieved nearly everything, has the chance to lead his team to an Olympic gold at home.
“I condition myself not to think too much about the whole thing,” Rezende told reporters after the hosts beat Mexico on Sunday.
“It’s one more very important competition. I take it day by day,” he said, voice brimming with emotion and betraying his words.
Rezende was an accomplished player, claiming silver at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, but it was really as a coach that he started leaving his mark on the sport.
With stints coaching the women’s and men’s national teams, Rezende, who has a degree in economics, added a level of vigor, strategy and discipline to the Brazilian game.
With success came popularity. In Brazil, many now say volleyball is the favorite sport. Soccer, the joke goes, is a religion.
“Sometimes I feel a bit like Michael Phelps, or one of those NBA players, or Nadal,” said Rezende, smiling at how people stop him for a picture.
At Maracanazinho, Rio’s hallowed volleyball arena where Olympic matches are being held, Rezende has a trick for stopping volunteers and police who want a picture from getting into trouble. “Tell (your boss) I asked for it,” he says.
Rezende’s talent has not skipped a generation either. His son Bruno is a crucial part of the national team.
Neither does his influence seem to be restricted to volleyball.
On Saturday, Brazilian artistic gymnast Diego Hypolito said words of advice from Rezende helped him land his final tumble after errors in London and Beijing.
“Maybe it’s not that I‘m good at giving advice, maybe it’s just that I give them good luck,” Rezende said.
Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer; editing by Ken Ferris