Olympic hopefuls look to make their mark on Cook Islands
OLYMPIC HOPEFULS READY TO MAKE MARK ON COOK ISLANDS
Even though there’s nothing riding on this week’s Oceania Olympic qualification tournament in the Cook Islands for Australia, four teams who are hoping to make it to Rio next year are looking to make a statement.
The Cook Islands event acts as a qualifier for the Asian Olympic qualifiers next year, but as host nation Australia will be guaranteed starts.
Four Australian teams, two men and two women, are competing at Raratonga, including Australia’s world U23 champions, Nikki Laird and Mariafe Artacho del Solar.
“This tournament is the best opportunity to prepare for the Asian Continental Cup in June next year, as its the only other time we'll play a tournament of the same style,” Laird said.
“We're going into it with the same approach we'd look to take in the final tournament, so we can see what areas we still need the most improvement in to be successful when it really counts.”
Australia’s top-rated women’s team of Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy are practically guaranteed a Rio position because of their current world ranking, throwing the race wide open for a potential second Australian team.
2012 Olympian, Becchara Palmer, who played with Bawden in London, is playing with Queensland’s Jordan Mowen in Raratonga.
“I think that although we are still a fairly new pairing, we made some good progress on the Asian Tour so we would like to build on from that,” Mowen said.
“It is also a very new but exciting experience to be playing as a "big" team with the other girls, so we would like to contribute our best performance so we can all reap the benefits.”
In the men’s competition, former Danish international Bo Soderberg and Perth’s Cole Durant will be looking to build on their exciting early results since coming together as a pair in recent months.
“It's a really cool format because it's not just about me or my team, it's about the greater Australian team and the whole sport of beach volleyball in Australia,” Durant said.
“Earning an Olympic spot is very important for our sport’s future, and of course winning this tournament puts us in the best position to win the golden ticket in June.
“I feel a bigger sense of selflessness or responsibility to perform well for our country but still just excited to compete against quality opposition in an amazing country. I'm looking forward to just stepping on court, battling it out and hopefully representing Australia with pride.”
Australia’s second men’s team, Melbourne-based Joshua Court and Damien Schumann, will be looking to build on some reasonable recent results in Indonesia and Turkey.
The Australian teams begin their Oceania campaigns on Wednesday, Australian time.