Antalya, Turkey, May 14, 2016 - Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst ended the historical journey for Taru Lahti and Riikka Lehtonen of Finland as the German pair captured their second FIVB World Tour gold medal this season and their fourth overall since forming their partnership in 2013 by winning the women’s title at the US$150,000 Antalya Open here Saturday afternoon on the BeachPark center court.
Seeded first in the 10th women’s event on the 2015-2016 FIVB World Tour calendar, Ludwig and Walkenhorst posted a 2-0 (23-21, 21-16) gold medal win in 39 minutes over the 15th-seeded Lahti and Lehtonen to capture the $11,000 first-place prize. In the first event on the 2015-2016 international calendar last October in Mexico, Ludwig and Walkenhorst topped the podium in Puerto Vallarta.
FIRST FINNISH MEDAL
Lahti and Lehtonen’s silver medal finish also marked the first-ever podium placement by a women’s or men’s Finnish team since the start of internationally-sanctioned Beach Volleyball events by the FIVB in 1987 for men and 1992 for women. In winning six of eight matches this week, Lahti and Lehtonen split the $8,000 second-place prize.
Ludwig and the 25-year old Walkenhorst, who now lead the FIVB series with the Fins at 4-1, captured their first world tour gold medal in May 2014 in China (Shanghai) with win No. 2 last July in Yokohama, Japan. With the Antalya Open being their 30th FIVB event together, the pair now have reached the podium 10 times with a 4-3 record in gold medal matches.
“It was a good week for us as we accomplish lot in preparing for our next two FIVB events in Moscow and Hamburg along with the European championships in Switzerland,” said the 30-year old Ludwig, who captured her third European continental championship last August with Walkenhorst. “Kira played very well and we were able to side out consistently all week. She had a big service winner to win the first set us after the Fins had controlled most of the action.”
As the top non-Brazilian team on the ranking list for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with 6,000 qualifying points for their best 12 finishes during the Copacabana process, the Germans did not lose a set in their seven Antalya Open matches, including a 2-0 (24-22, 21-16) semi-final win in 38 minutes over seventh-seeded compatriots Katrin Holtwick and Ilka Semmler in Saturday morning’s first semi-final match. It was the first meeting between the two teams on the international circuit since May 2014 when Holtwick and Semmler defeated their German rivals in the semi-finals at the Czech Republic Open in Prague.
Playing in their second FIVB World Tour “final four”, Lahti and Lehtonen advanced to the Antalya Open gold medal match with a 2-0 (25-23, 21-14) semi-final win in 43 minutes over sixth-seeded Ana Gallay and Georgina Klug of Argentina. In the inaugural Antalya Open last October, the Argentineans had eliminated Lahti and Lehtonen in a quarter-final match.
With the semi-final win, Lahti and Lehtonen also improved their point total for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as the pair has now compiled 3,560 points for their best 12 finishes during the qualifying period that starting in April 2015. The Fins are No. 18 on the Rio list with the top 15 pairs from the FIVB World Tour earning berths. Lahti and Lehtonen trail No.15 Wang/Yue of China by 530 points with three FIVB qualifying events left along with European championships at the start of June in Switzerland.
BRONZE MEDAL MATCH
In the bronze medal match, Holtwick and Semmler posted a 2-0 (21-18, 21-16) win in 34 minutes over Gallay and Klug to share the $6,000 prize. The Argentineans, who split $4,500 for fourth-place, had won the previous two matches with Holtwick and Semmler, including a meeting last month in Xiamen, China.
Holtwick and Semmler’s placement also added another 50 points in their bid to return to the Olympic Games after finishing ninth at the London 2012 Summer Games. With a maximum of two teams per country for the Copacabana quadrennial, Karla Borger and Britta Buthe are the second German pair on the list with 4,920 points for their best 12 finishes. Holtwick and Semmler are on the “outside looking in” for Rio with 4,770 points with three FIVB and one European continental championship event left on the qualifying schedule.
UPCOMING RIO QUALIFYING EVENTS
Holtwick and Semmler will be at the next international stop in the United States starting Tuesday in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Moscow Grand Slam in Russia (May 24-29) and the Hamburg Major (June 7-12) are the last two FIVB events on the qualifying schedule. The European Championships are June 1-5 in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland.
The Antalya Open also features men’s competition where three rounds of elimination bracket are being played Saturday. The men’s “final four” matches will be Sunday.