Porec, Croatia, June 24, 2016 - When the FIVB World Tour returns here next week for the second of five SWATCH Major Series stops on the 2015-2016 international calendar, there will be a “different feel” as compared to the inaugural event held last June in the Croatian coastal town.
The “different feeling” is not because of the players as the world’s best competitors will be vying for the US$800,000 in prize money being awarded as play begins June 28 with qualifying and concludes July 2 and 3 with the medal matches. As of Friday (June 24), the 2016 Porec Major has attracted 67 men’s and 51 women’s entries from 32 countries for the FIVB World Tour stop.
Fan-friendly Beach Volleyball at 2015 Porec Major
The “different feeling” is due to the “Olympic” atmosphere where the planet’s elite Beach Volleyball performers will be starting their final preparations for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games led by a strong Brazilian entry list with five men’s and six women’s teams in the competition featuring Alison Cerutti/Bruno Oscar Schmidt and Talita Antunes/Larissa Franca.
Entering the Porec Major, the FIVB World Tour has held 17 men’s and 14 women’s events this season with all, except for last week’s stop in Olsztyn, Poland, being part of the qualifying process for the Rio 2016 Olympics. Seventeen pairs from both genders netted spots via the international circuit for the Copacabana quadrennial.
Alison/Bruno and Talita/Larissa finished atop the qualifying list for men and women, respectively. Both pairs will be the top-seeded teams in the Rio 2016 Olympics where play on Copacabana in the Brazilian coastal city will be August 6-18. During the Rio qualifying process, the Brazilians used SWATCH Major Series finishes to leap atop the ranking lists.
Larissa Franca (left) and Talita Antunes of Brazil won the gold medal at the 2015 Porec Major
Talita and Larissa won the inaugural SWATCH Major Series event in Porec last season with a second gold medal a month later in Switzerland at the Gstaad Major. Alison and Bruno, who finished a disappointing 17th and ninth in their first two SWATCH Major Series events at Porec and Stavanger, Norway, joined Talita and Larissa in topping the Gstaad Major podium.
Alison and Bruno’s disappointments from Porec and Stavanger last season were quickly erased as the Brazilians captured the gold medal at the 2015 FIVB World Championships in The Hague to start a streak of five-straight podium topping performances for the pair on the FIVB World Tour.
Both Brazilian tandems ended the 2015 season by winning the fourth of four “major” events at the SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals in the United States where Alison/Bruno and Talita/Larissa claimed the richest international first-place prize purse of $100,000 each at the event in south Florida on Fort Lauderdale beach. Overall, teams from Brazil have won three of the five men’s SWATCH Major Series events to date and four of the five women’s stops.
Despite winning a combined seven of the 10 “major” gold medals, the Brazilians streak of three-straight podium-topping sweeps for their men’s and women’s teams was snapped at the first 2016 SWATCH Major Series event June 7-12 at the smart Major Hamburg where Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst of Germany and Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena of the United States won the gold medals. Both winning teams will be competing on Copacabana for Olympic medals pending official confirmation by the respective NOC.
Ludwig and Walkenhorst defeated reigning FIVB world champions and Rio Olympic qualifiers Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas for the women’s smart Major Hamburg gold medal after defeating London 2012 Olympic medalist April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings in the semifinals. The German gals also placed fourth at the Stavanger Major last season and second at the SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals.
Dalhausser and Lucena avenged a gold medal setback to Alison and Bruno at the SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals in Florida by defeating the Brazilians in the smart Major Hamburg semi-finals followed by a gold medal win over Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen of The Netherlands.
Despite the title setback to the Americans in Hamburg, the Olympic-bound Brouwer and Meeuwsen maintained their position as the SWATCH Major’s most consistent men’s team with four “semi-final” appearances in five Series starts with the only blemish being a ninth at the 2015 Stavanger Major.
The 2013 FIVB world champions, Brouwer and Meeuwsen captured the inaugural Porec Major last season by defeating Josh Binstock and Sam Schachter of Canada in the finals. The Dutch bounced back from the Stavanger finish to place third in Gstaad, fourth in Fort Lauderdale and the second in Hamburg.
Alexander Brouwer (left) and Robert Meeuwsen of The Netherlands
Only Talita and Larissa can match Brouwer and Meeuwsen with four SWATCH Major Series semi-final appearances. While the Dutch have stood on all three steps of the SWATCH Major Series podium with a gold, silver and bronze to their credit, Talita and Larissa are missing silver with three golds and one bronze medal in their trophy cases.
Heather Bansley and Sara Pavan of Canada, who lost the 2015 Porec Major final to Talita and Larissa, have been one of the more productive women’s teams in the SWATCH Major Series by posting a second, fifth, third, fourth and ninth in five events. Bansley and Pavan are Rio-bound pending official confirmation by their NOC.
Prior to taking this week off for the completion of Continental Cup action for four of the five FIVB Confederations where the winning countries will earn berths in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the FIVB World Tour crowned Ludwig/Walkenhorst and Aleksandrs Samoilovs/Janis Smedins of Latvia as champions at the Olsztyn Grand Slam where Talita/Larissa and Alison/Bruno were defeated in the gold medal matches, respectively.
Samoilovs and Smedins, who lost to Alison and Bruno in the finals of the Gstaad Major, have earned their ticket for the Rio Olympics pending official confirmation by the respective NOC. Samoilovs and has placed ninth at both the Beijing 2008 (Martins Plavins) and London 2012 (Ruslans Sorokins) Olympic Games. Smedins and Plavins captured the bronze in London for one of two Latvian medals in 2012 with the other by Māris Štrombergs in BMX cycling.
Following the Porec Major, the SWATCH Series continues with stops in Switzerland (Gstaad, July 5-10) and Austria (Klagenfurt, July 26-31). The SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals will be held September 8-13 at a site to be announced in the coming weeks.