Sergio Santos: The most valuable libero in history

Presenting a new member of the FIVB Athletes’ Commission, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and two-time world champion

Sergio Dutra Santos, known as Serginho, is widely considered the best libero in the history of volleyball, and is the only athlete playing in this position to have been named the Most Valuable Player at an Olympic Games volleyball tournament and an FIVB Volleyball World League. Upon his retirement as a professional player in 2020, the only man to have played in four consecutive Olympic volleyball finals said he would stay close to the sport, and now 46-year-old Serginho has been appointed as a member of the FIVB Athletes’ Commission.

Sergio was born on 15 October 1975 in Diamante do Norte, just outside the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, where he launched his professional career as a volleyballer in 1992, competing for the team of Palmeiras.

His amazing journey with the Brazilian national team jersey started in 2001. In his very first season, the squad won three gold medals out of the three major competitions they played, the World League, the South American Championship and America’s Cup.

The following year, Serginho achieved his first triumph at the FIVB Volleyball World Championships. He and his teammates claimed the title in Argentina. In 2003, they won the FIVB Volleyball World Cup, and in 2004, they celebrated as Olympic champions at the Games in Athens.

Over the 16 years he was a national team player, Serginho amassed an incredible collection of trophies and medals. He became the only male volleyballer in history to play in four back-to-back Olympic finals, winning two gold (2004 and 2016) and two silver medals (2008 and 2012).

He won two World Championship titles (2002 and 2006), two World Cup titles (2003, 2007) and a bronze (2011), two FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup titles (2005, 2009), and as many as seven World League titles in addition to three silvers in the competition.

He also had an impressive run at the South American Championships, earning seven gold medals out of his seven appearances at the continental tournament. Serginho’s collection also includes a gold and a bronze at the Pan American Games.

Serginho spent most of his club career playing for teams from his native Brazil. He picked up numerous medals in domestic competitions, most importantly the 2011 national title with SESI Sao Paulo. During the four-year period between 2004 and 2008, when the 1.84m-tall libero defended the colours of Italy’s Copra Piacenza, the team won the CEV Cup trophy, took a CEV Champions League silver and made four national podiums with two silvers and a bronze in the SuperLega and a silver in Coppa Italia.

Sergio Santos accumulated multiple individual awards during his athletic career. It is uncommon for a libero to be named the Most Valuable Player of a tournament, but among the numerous Best Libero, Best Digger and Best Receiver nominations, he was chosen for the MVP honours at major international competitions as many as four times – twice at the South American Championships, once at the 2009 World League, and, most importantly, at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, shortly before Serginho bid farewell to the Brazilian national team.

That farewell came in early September 2016, when over 30,000 fans at Curitiba’s Atletico Paranaense Stadium in Serginho’s native state of Parana applauded him at a friendly game between Brazil and Portugal. In an emotional display of respect for his glorious career, the libero was given the symbolic opportunity to personally score the last point directly from the serving line.

He continued to play competitive club volleyball for four more seasons and retired in May 2020 at the age of 44 as a member of Pacaembu/Volei Ribeirao Preto, shortly after the season was prematurely interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2021, Serginho was inducted into the International Volleyball Hall of Fame.

As of 2022, Sergio Santos is a member of the FIVB Athletes’ Commission.