BEIJING (Reuters) - From Pele to Ronaldo, Brazilians often take nicknames for their sporting careers so when Renato Gomes and Jorge Terceiro started their latest ventures in beach volleyball they went for “Geor” and “Gia.”
Odd decision? Not if you have just taken double citizenship in Georgia.
The former Soviet state is competing for the first time in the immensely popular Olympic beach volleyball with a lot of help from a country that has perfected the sport.
Geor and Gia are flying their adopted flag in the men’s tournament while Cristine “Saka” Santanna and Andrezza “Rtvelo” Martins qualified for the women’s event just before the deadline last month.
Sakartvelo means Georgia in Georgian.
“I have to say I don’t speak much Georgian but everyone there speaks English,” Saka said after a training session in Beijing.
“I’ve been there a few times and it seems everyone is supporting us … and back in Brazil, when we play, they shout for Georgia all the way,” said Saka, who is married to Brazilian beach volleyball player Harley Marques.
Sport is dotted with athletes born in one country competing for another. Georgian-born weightlifters and judo fighters picked up medals for Greece in the last few Olympics.
Levan Akhvlediani, president of the Georgian volleyball federation, had the notion of importing a beach team in 2001.
“Every business needs success so I looked for the shortest way to success,” he told Reuters.
He approached a coach in Brazil and together they picked players who were unlikely to make the big time there and who could afford to sit out of international competition for two years to meet citizenship requirements.
The teams went back on international tour in 2006, just in time to start picking up Olympic qualification points.
“I was going to retire,” said Geor, now 27. “I never dreamed of being at the Olympics and here I am now.”
Both teams start the pool rounds of their first Olympics on August 9.
Akhvlediani hopes that live coverage of his two teams in Beijing will encourage young athletes to start playing beach volleyball on Georgia’s Black Sea coast and attract sponsors.
Saka, 29, shares the dream, but with a twist.
“Georgia can be very cold. I want to get more young Georgian girls down to Brazil to learn how to play. That would be great.”
Editing by Steve Ginsburg