Olsztyn, Poland, June 17, 2016 - When talking about legendary men’s teams on the FIVB World Tour, the conversation starts with Emanuel Rego/Ricardo Santos of Brazil, Phil Dalhausser/Todd Rogers of the United States, Marcio Araujo/Fabio Magalhaes of Brazil and the Laciga brothers (Martin and Paul) of Switzerland.
Each team has won over US$1-million on the international circuit and have Olympic credentials. The American and Brazilian pairs have won world championships and Olympic medals. The Swiss were the most renowned brother combination on the world tour and played in more matches (618) together than any other team in FIVB history.
But quietly in the background, Adrian Gavira and Pablo Herrera have moved into legendary status with nearly $1-million in earnings in becoming the most successful Spanish team on the FIVB World Tour since the start of competition 30 years along on a beach in Rio de Janeiro in 1987.
While American, Brazilian and Dutch pairs rank ahead of the Spaniards on the Rio ranking list to fill the top six seeds for the 2016 Olympics, Gavira and Herrera moved into the No. 7 spot last week at the smart Major Hamburg and are tabbed as one of those “dark horse” teams to medal on Copacabana this coming August.
The 33-year old Herrera and the 26-year old Gavira are “soft-spoken” and are truly the Spanish Conquistadors on the international circuit with 271 match wins together in their eight-season, 79-event partnership. The Spaniards have compiled $914,700 in winnings with two gold medals, 14 podium placements, 19 “final fours”, 41 “elite eights” and 63 “sweet 16” finishes to their credit.
Prior to playing together, Gavira and Herrera had established themselves as a force in Beach Volleyball by winning FIVB junior world championship medals. Herrera took it one step further as he became the youngest player ever (22) to win an Olympic medal when he teamed with Javier Bosma to claim the second podium spot at the Athens 2004 Summer Games.
While the Rio 2016 Olympic Games will be the second for Gavira, who started playing full-time on the FIVB World Tour in 2008 with Inocencio Lario as the pair won a silver medal that season at the Polish stop in Stare Jablonki, Herrera will be competing in his fifth. He teamed with Raul Mesa to place ninth at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
After finishing a disappointing 25th in their first event this season at the Rio Grand Slam in mid-March, Gavira and Herrera bounced back to place fifth, first, third, ninth, fifth and fifth in their next six events. The last fifth was an exceptionally hard setback for the Spaniards at the smart Major Hamburg last Saturday.
"That was a tough game against the Dutch (Alexander Brouwer/Robert Meeuwsen),” said Herrera, who is nicknamed the “Flaquito (the thin/slim one). “It was lucky that they won the last two points and the match. Winning the pool this week gives us confidence. We are happy now, but tomorrow we will see."
Gavira, who is nicknamed Torito (the little bull), and Herrera posted Pool D wins the past two days over pairs from Latvia, Poland and Russia to advance to the second-round of elimination Saturday with a “bye”. Friday’s 2-0 (21-9, 21-16) win in 26 minutes over 13th-seeded Oleg Stoyanovskiy/Artem Yarzutkin 2-0 (21-9, 21-16) guaranteed the Spaniards a ninth-place in the Olsztyn Grand Slam to maintain their streak of top nine finishes.
The Spaniards also placed ninth at the 2015 Olsztyn Grand Slam after being eliminated by eventual event winners Alison Cerutti and Bruno Oscar Schmidt of Brazil in the “sweet 16” 2-0 (25-23, 21-19) in 45 minutes. With the Brazilians competing in Olsztyn again this week, Gavira and Herrera could be on a collision course to meet Alison and Bruno on the Crooked Lake courts.
Pablo Herrera (right) of Spain hits against Bruno Oscar Schmidt of Brazil
If not, it might be in the coming weeks in Croatia, Switzerland and/or Austria at SWATCH Major Series events. If not, it could be in August at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games where Alison and Bruno will be the top-seeded team and playing in Pool A on Copacabana. With Gavira and Herrera destined to play in Pool D, E or F, the two teams could not meet until the elimination rounds in Rio.
For Gavira and Herrera that would be great and then they could erase the 25th-place finish this past March on Copacabana and replace it with a memorable thought of playing Alison and Bruno for an Olympic medal to cement the Spaniards legendary status as one of the all-time great pairs in the history of Beach Volleyball.