Hamburg, Germany, June 6, 2016 - It is not often that a FIVB World Tour qualifier can impact a team’s dreams of Olympic grandeur, but that will be the case here Tuesday for women’s Beach Volleyball pairs from China and Russia when the two tandems compete in the preliminary rounds of the US$800,000 smart Major Hamburg at the Am Rothenbaum stadium.
For the team of Ekaterina Birlova/Evgeniya Ukolova, winning is the only thing as the Russian pair must advance from Tuesday’s qualifier to the inaugural smart Major Hamburg Main Draw to maintain an opportunity to net one of the 15 spots available for the FIVB World Tour for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
After placing fourth at last week’s European Championships in Switzerland, Birlova and Ukolova 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.
Evgeniya Ukolova (left) and Ekaterina Birlova of Russia
For the team of Fan Wang/Yuan Yue, winning their qualifying match Tuesday is not essential as the Chinese pair is No. 14 on the Rio list with 4,150 points with a 50-point lead over the Argentineans and 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 quarterfinals.
Yuan Yue (left) and Fan Wang of China
Tuesday’s women’s and men’s qualifiers at the smart Major Hamburg, the third of nine “big” events on the 2015-2016 FIVB World Tour calendar, will add the final eight teams in each gender’s Main Draw competition where pool play will be featured 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.
In addition the Hamburg event, other SWATCH Major Series events will be held in Croatia (Porec, June 29-July 3), Switzerland (Gstaad, July 6-10) and Austria (Klagenfurt, July 27-31). The SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals will be held September 13-18 at a site to be determined.
Two of the four FIVB World Tour Grand Slam stops have been completed in Rio de Janeiro (March 8-13 on iconic Copacabana) and Moscow (May 24-29). The final two events will be staged in Poland (Olsztyn, June 14-19) and the United States (Long Beach, August 23-28).
With the 2015-2016 FIVB World Tour being season No. 25 since the start of internationally-sanctioned women’s events in 1992 on a beach in Almeria, Spain, Hamburg now becomes the 168th site to host a FIVB events and the second location in Germany. Berlin has hosted nine women’s (2000, 2003-2005, 2007-2008 and 2012-2014) events.
Hamburg has staged three European Tour events (2006-2008) highlighted by the 2008 continental championships local resident Laura Ludwig and then-partner Sarah Goller Niedrig defeated Norwegians Nila Ann Hakedal/Ingrid Torlen for the women’s crown.
Host Germany will have eight women’s teams competing in the smart Major Hamburg where four teams have already secured spots in the “money” rounds led by Ludwig and current partner Kira Walkenhorst. Ludwig and Walkenhorst captured their second-straight gold medal at the European Championships last week in Switzerland.
Joining Ludwig/Walkenhorst in the women’s Main draw are Karla Borger/Britta Buthe, Katrin Holtwick/Ilka Semmler and Chantal Laboureur/Julia Sude. Attempting to qualify for the “money” rounds are Lisa Arnholdt/Anni Schumacher, Victoria Bieneck/Julia Grossner, Sandra Ittlinger/Yanina Weiland and Teresa Mersmann/Isabel Schneider.