SANTIAGO, Chile — Beach volleyball players Marco and Esteban Grimalt are not famous outside of Chile, but at home the cousins are the host nation’s faces of the Pan American Games. Television ads, posters in Santiago’s subway and Tik Tok videos shared by adoring influencers have the two front and center.
The Grimalts failed on Thursday to defend their 2019 Pan American Games gold medal, losing 21-13, 21-17 to Brazil’s André Loyola and George Souto, a setback that upset Chilean fans nationwide.
Fans like Josefa Eli, 23, arrived at Santiago’s Peñalolén beach volleyball center hours before the match, a rare feature in Pan American Games competitions, for two reasons: Avoid the rush and get better seats to watch the two most popular local athletes.
“They are great and they are gorgeous. Can’t you see that?” said Eli, who was wearing an Olympic team shirt and eating a burrito as she waited in line. She will be back to the court on Friday to see the two Pan American Games poster boys fight for bronze.
“Who are these men?” Eli jokingly said in a reference to ”Quien es ese hombre?” a song from a Chilean soap opera that has been the soundtrack of several Tik Tok videos in which Chilean teenagers and youngsters show their admiration for the volleyball players. They call themselves “Grimalt Lovers.”
Some tried to give the cousins their support in the battle against the Brazilians.
“Marco, look at me, please!,” one of them said during the first set. “Esteban, you can do it, mi amor. I know that!” another supporter screamed. Such fan loyalty is not common in beach volleyball, a sport in which some duos break apart after a few years.
The Grimalt cousins share an Instagram account with almost 120,000 followers, another rare feature in the sport, even less so for athletes who have never come close to Olympic glory.
The cousins clearly understood they had lost to a better rival — the Brazilian duo is ranked 5th in the world, while the Chileans are ranked 22nd. But losing at home was painful to them.
“There’s too much information to look at right after you lose,” Marco Grimalt said. “We try not to repeat today’s mistakes tomorrow and get the bronze.”
Esteban Grimalt said he is counting on fans to remain excited for the third-place match.
“The tickets to our matches were the first ones to sell out. We will fight for a medal tomorrow, that’s what matters. We feel their support to get the bronze, perform well,” he said.
Despite the defeat, the faces of the Grimalt cousins will continue to decorate venues and ads of the Pan American Games until Nov. 5. And more Tik Tok videos of them are likely to come.
Image credits: AP