TOKYO — Jordan Larson swears she's not an emotional player. That's not the story her face told on Sunday, after she hammered down the final point against Brazil.
The three-time Olympian sealed the first-ever Olympic gold medal for the U.S. women's volleyball program, then dissolved into tears with the rest of her team. After winning three silver and two bronze medals since 1984, the Americans finally grabbed the gold, crushing Brazil 3-0 at Ariake Arena. A match expected to be tight quickly turned into a 25-21, 25-20, 25-14 rout, as Brazil could not handle the big arms or sturdy blocking of a U.S. team determined to end its long wait.
The U.S. finished 7-1 and earned sweeps in five of eight matches, with Larson and another three-time Olympian — Foluke Akinradewo Gunderson — leading the way. The loss was the first of the tournament for Brazil, which beat the Americans for gold in 2008 and 2012.
"The emotions got the best of me,'' said Larson, who had 12 kills. "I'm in a kind of euphoria, a state of shock.
"There were a lot of tough teams, and we had to deal with a lot of adversity. [Akinradewo Gunderson] and I have been through a lot, and it's like, it was time. It was time for us.''
Jordan Thompson of Edina didn't play Sunday. She injured her right ankle in the fourth match and was sidelined for the rest of the tournament, though coach Karch Kiraly said she could have played in the semifinals and final if the team had really needed her.
Thompson sprinted onto the court after Larson's winning kill to join a jubilant pile of teammates. She wept, she belted out the chorus of "We Are the Champions," she posed for photos clutching her medal. Then she cried again, thinking about her older teammates who had invested years to get to this place.
"It makes me really emotional, because I know they wanted it so bad,'' Thompson said. "To be a part of that with them just feels so sacred, and like such an honor. I'm so incredibly grateful to have been on this journey with them, and to be part of making history, and something they've been chasing after for so long.''
Kiraly won two gold medals as a player for the U.S. men's team in 1984 and 1988. He wept Sunday, too, saying the long road for the American women made this one especially meaningful.
"I think in some ways, this is more powerful,'' Kiraly said. "It tastes sweeter when you come close and suffer some really painful losses. We're incredibly proud to make history.''
The U.S. entered the final match with loads of confidence, thanks to a finely tuned team game that had gotten better over the past two matches. Brazil fell behind quickly in the first set and never recovered.
Down 4-0, Brazil was able to cut the U.S. lead to a point but stalled out because of too many unforced errors. At one point, Caroline de Oliveira Saad Gattaz went for a kill and whiffed, causing coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes to put his hand to his forehead in exasperation.
The U.S. game plan was to assert control defensively and serve well. They were dialed in throughout the match, using crisp passing, an outstanding block and great tenacity to keep the pressure on. Brazil held brief leads in the second and third sets, but early in the third, Guimaraes was pleading with his team to pull it together.
Even though Thompson said it was "really tough'' to be injured, she quickly recognized she could still play a part in her team's success. Despite playing in only four matches, she was the ninth-leading scorer in the Olympic tournament with 78 total points.
"Whether I was able to get on the court and get healthy enough to play, or if it was just being a supportive teammate on the bench, I just wanted to crush my role,'' Thompson said. "I wanted to be really good eyes for Annie [Drews] and bring a lot of energy and encourage my teammates in any way I could. I hope I did a good job of that.''
That kind of selflessness, Larson said, is what put the U.S. over the top this time. Even players who did not make the final Olympic roster — including Minnesotans Tori Dixon, Hannah Tapp and Sarah Wilhite Parsons — stayed connected to the group in Tokyo.
"They were doing our box cheers from home,'' she said. "We still have a group chat going. They don't get to take (a medal) home with them, but this is a piece of them.''
It's expected that Tokyo will be the final Olympics for Larson and Akinradewo Gunderson. Larson wasn't ready to announce her retirement Sunday, but she was happy to share her thoughts on the future of the U.S. women's program.
She praised the younger players on the Olympic roster, noting their generation is getting the international experience they need to excel at the highest level.
"I think you're going to see great things coming from them,'' Larson said. "There are a lot of first-timers on this team, and to walk away with a gold medal at 23? That's pretty impressive.''
Thompson, for one, is ready to take up that challenge.
"Our leaders and veterans have worked so hard,'' Thompson said. "They've set us up in such a good spot, to continue this culture of supporting each other. We just want to continue the legacy they've created.''