Marseille, France, July 20, 2008 - The top three seeded teams all earned spots on the podium of the US$350,000 World Series13. Highlighting the final day of action was the German team of Stephanie Pohl and Okka Rau, who won the first women's gold medal in the history of the SWATCH FIVB World Tour. Brazil claimed two medals, winning multiple medals in Marseille for the sixth time. In the past three years, five different Brazilian teams have now won medals.
The German women achieved a pair of other accomplishments in the process as well. Their strong showing in Marseille helped hold off their competition for an Olympic berth, as they will head to Beijing for their second straight Olympic competition. Additionally, they became just the third women's team to lose a second-round match and then come back to win the gold medal. First done in Marseille in 1999, this marked the second time this season that this route to a Gold Medal was taken.
Pohl and Rau, whose 80 events together rank sixth all-time, were playing in their first title match. In the first set, they broke a 16-16 tie with a 4-0 run that enabled them to win 21-17. The Germans led in the second set 17-13, but a 6-1 scoring run by Maria Antonelli and Vanilda Leao, spurred on by three aces, gave Brazil the lead they needed in taking the set 22-20.
In the third set, Pohl and Rau used their Marseille experience to their advantage, as they won all five three-set matches they played here in this Mediterranean city. The third-seeded Germans took an early lead of 5-2 and built it up to an 11-5 advantage. Rau, normally the back-row defender, recorded a block to win the match 15-9. Pohl was selected as the SWATCH Most Outstanding Player of the event.
"To win an FIVB tournament is really special," an ecstatic Pohl said. "I didn't expect us to win because we were so exhausted from the past few weeks. I don't know where the energy came from. We're really happy to be the first German team to win a Gold. I don't know what I'm more happy about, winning a tournament or qualifying for the Olympics. This has been a perfect weekend for us."
The medal was the 11th overall for the country of Germany, with three of those belonging to Pohl and Rau. With less than three weeks before the Olympics begin, this gives Pohl and Rau momentum to build on their fifth-place finish in Athens in 2004.
"I'm really proud of me and Stephi that we made it," Rau said. "There was a lot of pressure in this tournament but if you're ahead then it's easier. It's even better that we won the tournament and made it to the Olympics."
Antonelli and Leao were playing for their first ever medal on the SWATCH FIVB World Tour. The duo had an even tougher road to the title match after losing in the first round; they then had to win seven straight matches to make it to today's contest.
In the World Series13 Bronze Medal match, Brazilian sisters Maria Clara and Carolina Salgado swept Helke Claasen and Antje Roder of Germany, 21-17, 25-23. The medal was the third for the young Brazilians, who also collected Bronze medals in Cape Town in 2005 and Stare Jablonksi earlier this season. The Germans, meanwhile, were striving for their first ever medal.
The Salgados were facing a different German team for the third consecutive match. In the first set they used an early 4-0 run to take a 7-4 lead, and did not trail after that, winning the first set comfortably. In the second set, the lead was never more than two points for either team, and Germany held a late 18-16 advantage. But the Salgados scored three points in a row to move ahead. Claasen and Roder did have one set point, but couldn’t convert and Brazil won on their fourth match point try.
"The German girls played good," Carolina, the younger sister said. "This game was very nice for us."
"We were a bit tired after the match we had yesterday, but we tried to be relaxed," Maria added. "Today we were really focused. Our goal is to be better in future tournaments. We are a volleyball family, and we were so distraught about Pedro not making the Olympics."
Pedro is their brother who also competed in the Bronze Medal match here, but whose semifinal loss Saturday put an end to any hopes of qualifying for the Beijing Games. The Salgados' mother is a former beach volleyball player as well, having won one SWATCH FIVB World Tour title.
Next week the 1 to 1 Energy Grand Slam takes place in Gstaad, Switzerland, featuring US$600,000 in prize money.