As Egypt’s Doaa Elghobashy went up for a block on Italy’s Laura Giombini on Copacabana’s famous sand, two cultures appeared to come together.
Elghobashy, head covered by a hijab, raised her longsleeved arms and – this time – won a point against her bikini-clad competitor.
The Brazilian crowd, who had stayed after watching their own team lose earlier in the morning went wild.
“Egypt, Egypt, Egypt,” echoed the chant around the 12,000 capacity arena on Copacabana beach as the crowd rooted for the underdog.
Elghobashy, 19, and competing in her first Olympics, has already achieved widespread internet fame. A Reuters picture on Sunday of her challenging a German player at the net went viral.
After Tuesday’s match, which Egypt lost 21-10 21-13, Elghobashy looked visibly frustrated by the media attention as she told Reuters she had worn a hijab for 10 years and felt completely comfortable in the outfit.
“We were very proud to play in front of such a great crowd,” she said through a translator. “I wear a hijab because I am a Muslim but it doesn’t stop me feeling a part of this game.”
Her partner, Nada Meawad, also wore long sleeves but did not cover her head.
In the bleachers, Brazilian fans were supportive of a country without much beach volleyball tradition. “I was cheering for them,” said Thana Zelide, 19, wearing a green bikini top in the blazing Rio sun. “They were about my age and were up against it in this match.”
For Hudson Heluy, a 36-year-old Rio restaurant owner, the difference in cultures is what the Olympics is all about.
“It’s really cool to have all these different countries in Rio and today Egypt needed our support.”