Bridge crossing in the “Venice of the North” for Birlova/Ukolova & Wang/Yue

Hamburg, Germany, June 7, 2016 - In a city with more than 2,500 bridges and known as the “Venice of the North”, Rio Olympic hopefuls Ekaterina Birlova/Evgeniya Ukolova of Russia and Fan Wang/Yuan Yue of China crossed their first expanse here Tuesday in the women’s qualifier at the US$800,000 smart Major Hamburg.

The next “bridge” is the biggest as the Chinese pair seeks to maintain their No. 14 ranking on the Rio 2016 Olympic Games qualifying list when Main Draw plays starts Wednesday in the inaugural smart Major Hamburg while the Russians are No. 16 and “on the outside looking in” for a spot in the Copacabana quadrennial.

Both team’s won qualifying matches Tuesday with the second-seeded Birlova and Ukolova posting a 2-0 (21-12, 21-17) win in 30 minutes over 15th-seeded Amanda Dowdy/Emily Stockman of the United States.  The third-seeded Wang and Yue advance to the “money” rounds with a 2-0 (22-20. 21-14) win in 36 minutes over 14th-seeded Kristyna Kolocova / Michala Kvapilova of the Czech Republic.

For Birlova and Ukolova, winning is the only thing.  After placing fourth at last week’s European Championships in Switzerland, the Russians remain 150 points out of the No. 15 spot with 3,950 points for their best 12 international finishes since the start of the Rio qualifying process in April 2015.  Argentina’s Ana Gallay and Georgia Klug, who have already qualified for the smart Major Hamburg “money” rounds, are listed 15th with 4,100 points.

With only 15 pairs from the FIVB World Tour, excluding Brazilians and with a maximum of two pairs per country, Wang and Yue have 4,150 Rio qualifying points with a 50-point lead over the Argentineans Ana Gallay and Georgina Klug and a 200-point advantage for over Russians.  However, if Wang and Yue do not advance from the qualifier, the Chinese could drop behind their closest competitors for Copacabana if Gallay/Klug finish ninth-or-higher in smart Major Hamburg and Birlova/Ukolova advance to the quarter-finals.

Other teams advancing to the Main Draw with qualifying wins Tuesday were top-seeded Eduarda Lisboa/Elize Maia of Brazil, fourth-seeded Victoria Bieneck/Julia Grossner of Germany, fifth-seeded Natalia Dubovcova/Dominika Nestarcova of the Slovak Republic, sixth-seeded Teresa Mersmann/Isabel Schneider of Germany, seventh-seeded Vasiliki Arvaniti/Penny Karagkouni of Greece and eighth-seeded Tatyana Mashkova/Irina Tsimbalova of Kazakhstan.

With two more German teams qualifying Tuesday, the host country will have six women’s teams competing in the smart Major Hamburg Main Draw.  Other German pairs in the “money” rounds will be Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst, Karla Borger/Britta Buthe, Katrin Holtwick/Ilka Semmler and Chantal Laboureur/Julia Sude.

The men’s and women’s smart Major Hamburg Main Draw will feature pool play Wednesday and Thursday.  Elimination bracket matches start Friday with three rounds for the women and two rounds for the men.  The women’s semi-finals and medal matches will be Saturday and the men’s “final four” contests Sunday.  The winning teams will share the $57,000 first-place prizes.


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