Olsztyn, Poland, June 16, 2016 - Sporting the top-ranked team on the FIVB World Tour along with qualifying two pairs for the Olympic Beach Volleyball competition this August on Copacabana, will this be the year that Poland places a due atop the podium at a Polish stop on the international circuit?
When the US$800,000 Olsztyn Grand Slam opened play here Tuesday, it marked the 13th-time that the European nation has staged a FIVB World Tour stop and only once in the previous 12 events has a Polish men’s team reached the podium when Grzegorz Fijalek and Mariusz Prudel captured the silver medal in 2011 in Stare Jablonki
But the 2016 Olsztyn Grand Slam could be different as Fijalek and Prudel have earned their second-straight trip to the Olympics and will be joined in the Copacabana quadrennial by Piotr Kantor and Bartosz Losiak, the No. 1-ranked team on the 2015-2016 FIVB World Tour.
Grzegorz Fijalek (left) and Mariusz Prudel of Poland
Host Poland will also have three other teams in the men’s Main Draw when pool play begins Thursday in the Olsztyn Grand Slam where Kantor and Losiak finished fifth last season in the inaugural event while Fijalek and Prudel placed ninth. Kantor and Losiak are seeded first this week in the 32-team Olsztyn Main Draw with Fijalek and Prudel 10th.
Also in the Olsztyn “money” rounds for Poland are 15th-seeded Michal Kadziola/Jakub Szalankiewicz, 20th-seeded Maciej Kosiak/Maciej Rudol and 24th-seeded Michal Bryl/Kacper Kujawiak as the five Polish pairs have combined for a 131-67 FIVB World Tour match mark this season (60.1 winning percentage) entering Thursday’s play.
Led by Kantor and Losiak, the five Polish teams have combined to capture one gold medal this season also four podium placements, six “final four” appearances, 19 quarter-final placements and 33 top ninths to their credit in 44 total events on the FIVB World Tour.
Despite the successes on the sand this season, Poland’s only one gold medal was Kantor and Losiak’s podium-topping performance in mid-March at the Rio Grand Slam where the Rio 2016 Olympic Games will be staged on Copacabana August 6-18. It was Poland’s second-ever FIVB World Tour gold medal as Fijalek and Prudel won the first title at the 2014 international stop in The Hague.
Kantor and Losiak’s Copacabana finish was impressive as the Polish pair defeated four Olympic-qualified teams enroute to the gold medal that was highlighted by a 2-0 (21-19, 23-21) podium-topping win in 45 minutes over hometown favorites Evandro Goncalves and Pedro Solberg of Brazil. To reach the finals on Copacabana, Kantor and Losiak posted a 2-0 (21-17, 23-21) semi-final win in 42 minutes over Fijalek and Prudel.
To qualify for the semi-finals at the Rio Grand Slam, Kantor and Losiak led throughout in defeating Americans Phil Dalhausser and Lucena 2-0 (21-19, 21-18) in a 44-minute quarter-final win. After the match, the 36-year old Lucena said that “the Poles are a tough team for us to play. They are young (both are 24), athletic, competitive and run a quick-setting game that is tough to defend. They are a force to contend with on the world tour.”
Nick Lucena (left) at the Rio Grand Slam net in March against Piotr Kantor as their partners follow the action
And to add “frosting to the cake”, Poland will also have a women’s team in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as Monika Brzostek and Kinga Kolosinska have qualified for Copacabana. Winners of an Olsztyn Grand Slam bronze medal last season for Poland’s first-ever women’s podium placement on the FIVB World Tour, Brzostek and Kolosinska won their opening two pool play matches Wednesday.
Brzostek and Kolosinska almost matched Kantor and Losiak’s feat at the Rio Grand Slam in March as the pair placed second. For the season, the Polish women’s pair has now won 17 of 32 FIVB World Tour matches with four top nine finishes. Kolosinska is also returning to action this week after missing two events due to back problems.
Thursday’s Olsztyn Grand Slam schedule features 24 pool play matches for both men and women. The Olsztyn Grand Slam will have elimination rounds for women Friday followed by Saturday’s “final four” matches. The men’s eliminator will be Saturday followed by the medal matches Sunday. The winning teams will share the $57,000 first-place prizes.