Klagenfurt, Austria, July 31, 2016 - Seven days before Ben Saxton and Chaim Schalk make their Olympic debut on the sands of Copacabana, the Canadians were winning a FIVB World Tour bronze medal here Sunday after posting a three-set win over “new” Polish team at the US$800,000 A1 Major Klagenfurt.
Seeded third in the competition, Saxton and Schalk claimed the $32,000 third-place prize by defeating 11th-seeded Bartosz Losiak and Michal Bryl of Poland 2-1 (23-21, 17-21, 15-12) in a 53-minute bronze medal match before an overflowing crowd of 8,000 for the fourth of five SWATCH Major Series events on the 2015-2016 FIVB World Tour calendar.
The bronze medal finish was the Canadians second this season as Saxton and Schalk advanced to the podium earlier this month at the Porec Major in Croatia. The pair defeated Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins in the third-place match July 3 in Porec and the Latvians gained revenged earlier Sunday with a 2-0 (21-16, 21-18) semi-final win in 34 minutes.
Playing in their first-ever FIVB World Tour event due to an injury for Losiak’s long-time partner Piotr Kantor, the Polish pair shared $24,000 for their fourth-place finish. “He’ll be back for Rio,” said Losiak after the match as Kantor has been hindered by various injuries since the pair placed third at the Moscow Grand Slam at the end of May.
The 24-year old Losiak and 21-year old Bryl, who played once before in the 2014 FIVB under-23 world championships, won their first five matches of the A1 Major Klagenfurt before dropping two contests Sunday. The first setback Sunday was a 2-0 (21-16, 24-22) semi-final decision in 42 minutes to fourth-seeded and 22-year old Brazilians Saymon Barbosa and Gustavo Carvalhaes.
When asked after the match about the win, Schalk said “it’s amazing. We weren’t 100 percent sure if we were going to come here. We made the decision because we like to play and we like to feel like we’re in rhythm and come to Klagenfurt and just wanted to play free and play our best and we did and getting a medal here is huge and we couldn’t as for much more than that.”
In becoming the first Canadian men’s or women’s team to medal in the 18-year FIVB history of playing in the Austrian city, the 27-year old Saxton said “Klagenfurt itself is a special tournament, like the best fans, it’s the biggest event basically. It’s really nice to prove to ourselves that we can medal at a tournament of this caliber especially right before Rio.”
A second bronze medal finish before the Rio was also “special” for the Canadians. “Porec was awesome and Klagenfurt had the same fans and I feel like we actually gained a little bit of momentum with them because it seemed like they were on our side for a while finally toward the end which was great,” said Schalk.
“It gave us a lot of confidence and playing in the big stadium was huge going into Rio,” said the 30-year old Schalk. It’s going to be the same thing but bigger but it’s huge for preparation. We wanted to come here and play in the stadium and get matches under pressure with all the fans and when we get to Rio it’s going to be the same mentality for us so it’s really good preparation.”