Klagenfurt, Austria, July 31, 2016 - It was a one-of-a-kind day for Janis Smedins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs.
The Latvia Olympians rode the wave of an emotional crowd to capture the A1 Major Klagenfurt, capturing the legendary tournament for the first time in their career. Smedins received birthday wishes from the fans earlier in the day, and then he and Samoilovs took the gold medal with a 21-18, 21-18 win over Brazilian youngsters Saymon Barbosa and Gustavo Carvalhaes.
And now it’s off to the Rio 2016 Olympics, where they will do battle with 23 other teams in the chase for Olympic gold.
“It’s very special because the crowd is the best in the world, starting the cheering in the first pool match and the stadium is almost full,” said Smedins, who was selected as the Most Outstanding Player in the tournament. “Our goal is to keep playing and play on center court, where the atmosphere is something unusual other than in other tournaments.
“Now we are in good shape and showing good volleyball and I think we have confidence to play with every other team, and if we play like this, we can beat every team. For the confidence, this is very good before the most important tournament in four years.”
Smedins, the London 2012 bronze medalist with Martins Plavins, and Samoilovs, a two-time Olympian, advanced to the final after topping Olympic Pool partners Chaim Schalk and Ben Saxton of Canada.
They then engaged in a spirited fight with the 22-year-olds, Guto and Saymon, but had the experience advantage and seized the opportunity at the right moments. The Latvians came up with five blocks in the final.
“The Brazilians are young and they’re very good but they made a few errors, just gave some points to us and we were able to just push it more,” said Smedins, who turned 29 on Sunday. “The biggest difference for us was the blocks, because we didn’t serve so well.”
In the first set, Guto and Saymon played steadily from the outset and took a 9-7 lead. Suddenly, however, the mistakes began to creep in; Guto served a ball into the net, Saymon missed two shots in a row. The Latvians built a 17-13 lead and ended the set on a hit to the back line from Samoilovs.
The Brazilians settled themselves and took a 12-10 lead in the second set, but a mishandled ball call on Guto enabled the Latvians to tie it at 12-12. It was still tied at 17-17 when Smedins broke the deadlock with a poke shot and followed with a hit to the back line.
For Guto and Saymon, who captured the FIVB Cincinnati Open in May, it was their first appearance in a SWATCH Major Series or Grand Slam final.
“The second place is amazing and we’re very happy,” Guto said. “It’s a World Tour tournament and it’s a Major Series in Klagenfurt, so this is amazing.
“This is so good for us. It makes us train more and more and we hope to go to the next Olympics in 2020.”
Samoilovs and Smedins lost in their final pool-play match but finished the tournament with five consecutive victories, including four over teams that will participate in the Olympics. They split the first-place prize of US$57,000.
In addition, they moved atop the standings in the SWATCH Majors Series race with one tournament remaining in which to qualify for the World Tour Finals in Toronto from Sept. 13-18.
It was the first time either Samoilovs or Smedins have reached the medal podium in Klagenfurt. It was their ninth victory together and 17 th time in 46 events they have reached the podium
“Gold in every tournament, especially in a Major Series, especially in Klagenfurt, is something special for us,” Samoilovs said. “Every gold medal is special and usually the best one is the last one. So it’s the best gold medal until the next one. Yeah, I hope in Rio.”