Olympic hopefuls look to make their 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.




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Schwartz family join Volleyball Australia team


Jerry Schwartz aims to revive Sydney 2000 spirit with partnership of Australian Volleyball.

13 October 2015: Tourism and hospitality entrepreneur, Dr Jerry Schwartz, announced today that the Schwartz Family Company would become a major sponsor of Volleyball Australia as the sport attempts to revive the highs achieved during the 2000 Olympics.

The sponsorship was announced today at Parliament House, with NSW Premier Mike Baird welcoming Dr Schwartz's support for the sport as it gears up to challenge for gold in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Dr Schwartz, who is Australia's largest private owner of hotels in Australia, is already a major sporting supporter, keen philanthropist and supporter of charities across the State.

The sponsorship will cover all aspects of volleyball - indoor and beach volleyball, women's, men's and junior.

He joins other major partners of the sport including Mrs Gina Rinehart and Bendon Lingerie manufacturer, Eric Watson.

"Who can forget the impact our women's beach volleyball team made to the success of Sydney's Olympic Games in 2000?" said Dr Schwartz.

"The tournament captured everything that is good about Sydney and as we head down the road to Rio, we need to recapture that spirit and vitality. A successful competition on the sand in Rio will be an enormous advertisement for Australia's beach and sporting culture.

"Our beach volleyball team is ranked in the top 5 in the world, and with extra resources we can get back to our gold status.

"In particular, this support will boost women's sport. So much sporting investment favours traditionally male sports, whereas volleyball has a strong focus on women and girls, and they deserve greater support."

Volleyball Australia President, Craig Carracher, said the generous support of the Schwartz Family Company comes at an exciting time for the sport in Australia.

“Our beach teams, and our women in particular, are currently among the best in the world, while our men’s indoor team is on the verge of an exciting Rio qualifying campaign,” Mr Carracher said.

“Our women’s indoor program has been re-launched after years of little government funding, and we have some of the biggest junior sports programs in Australia.

“None of this is possible without the support of people like Dr Jerry Schwartz. It is fantastic to have someone with his vision and generosity on board.”

Volleyball Australia Chief Commercial Officer, Rod Harys, said Australian businesses were recognising what the sport has to offer.

“Volleyball is the most gender equal sport in the world, it is one of the most popular sports in the world, and whether it is indoor or beach, it is a thrilling sport to watch,” Mr Harys said.

“Having the support of sponsors of the calibre of the Schwartz Family Company, Mrs Gina Rinehart and Bendon, and the recent signing of Three Threes Condiments, Mightymite, Hope Estate Wines, Sunland, Mitronics and Sails Restaurant Group underlines that this is a sport going forward.

“And that will be further exemplified on the sand of Copacabana Beach and in a Maracana stadium next year. It is an exciting time for beach and indoor volleyball.”


Having reaped two qualification victories on Wednesday to make the 32-team Main Draw, the 31st-seeded Artacho/Laird continued their winning momentum by defeating Germany’s second seeds Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst 2-0 (21-17, 21-19) in the morning and Czech Republic’s 15th seeds Kristyna Kolocova/Marketa Slukova 2-0 (21-16, 24-22) in the afternoon.

“Cool! It feels pretty unbelievable! Our first season, our first Grand Slam, come as qualifiers, it feels pretty unreal,” said Artacho.

The second set of the second round match between Artacho/Laird and Kolocova/Slukova was hotly contested and the Australians withstood two set points to level it at 20-all thanks to a Artacho block against Kolocova. After Artacho beat off the fourth set point of the Czech Republic with another block, an error of Slukova during a long rally awarded Artacho/Laird their first match point and Artacho converted on it with an accurate drop shot.

“It feels pretty unreal, but we came back in the second set. We just stuck together for every point and believed in each other and we can do it,” Artacho added. “I think that the most important thing is to believe in ourselves and say: we can do it, it's possible.”

Laird attributed the surprising wins to their concentration. “It’s our first Grand Slam and it's all a bit overwhelming. So breaking everything down, making it a lit bit smaller, a little bit simpler,” she said. “In the game just play our ball. Last point doesn't matter, the next point doesn't matter, and it’s all about what's happening in that one moment.”

Having secured their berth in the 24-team knock-out stage, Artacho/Laird now put their eyes on the last match and the top place of the pool.

“We always go one step at a time, even breaking the game down, thinking nothing, just one game at a time has helped us come this far,” Artacho said. “We still haven’t finish pool match, so our next goal is to finish atop of our pool. Being that our last game today, we can now switch off, relax and get ready for tomorrow's games.”

Home favorites Xue/Xia also had a fine start on Thursday as they swept Kazakhstan’s Tatyana Mashkova/Irina Tsimbalova 2-0 (21-17, 21-11) before beating Ana Gallay and Georgina Klug of Argentina 2-0 (21-19, 21-19).

“We were satisfied with our play today,“ said Xue, who paired with Xia to take the bronze medal at last week’s season-opening Fuzhou Open. “My partner is very young and we have a lot to improve together, so every match is a good test and challenge for us.“

It’s also the first Grand Slam event for the newly formed Chinese combination and they vowed to do as best as they. “It’s important for us to get more points and this Grand Slam is a great opportunity, we’ll do the best we can,“ Xue added.

Other top teams winning two matches in a row include Walsh/Ross of the United States, Juliana/Antonelli, Talita Antunes/Taiana Lima, Agatha Bednarczuk/Barbara Seixas De Freitas from Brazil and Germany’s Karla Borger/Britta Buthe, Katrin Holtwick/Ilka Semmler.

Thirty-two teams are playing a single round robin in eight groups with top three finishers from each group to advance to the 24-team knockout stage.

The 2014 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour calendar features a record purse of US$10.2 million with a season that extends from late April to mid-December competing at 21 venues in 18 countries. This year’s FIVB World Tour includes a record 10 FIVB Grand Slam events, the inaugural Grand Slam Finale and 11 FIVB Open Tournaments throughout the world, helping expand the door for development of the sport even further.

The 10 FIVB Grand Slam competitions, all double-gender, have eight with $800,000 in total purses while both The Hague, Netherlands and the Long Beach, Calif., USA event will have $1 million each in prize money, the most in FIVB Grand Slam history.





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