Men's competition, Carolina
From 9 June To 13 June 2004

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Hernandez & Papaleo Seek Puerto Rico's First Olympic Volleyball Berth
CAROLINA, PUERTO RICO, June 9, 2004 - While eight teams from host Puerto Rico were playing country quota matches here Wednesday, local favourites Ramon Hernandez and Raul Papaleo were practicing for what will be their "most important event" in their last two years on the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour.

The qualifying circuit for the 2004 Athens Games, Hernandez and Papaleo are currently ranked 19th on the Olympic list entering the final five qualifying events prior to the July 11 cut-off when the 24 men's teams for the Beach Volleyball competition will be decided.

If Hernandez and Papaleo can maintain their position among the top 22 teams on the Athens list, they will become Puerto Rico's first-event Olympic participants in the sport of volleyball - indoor or on the beach. With host Greece and the continent of Africa guaranteed two men's berths in Athens, the Puerto Ricans are in a "tight" race with teams from France, Canada, Austria, Estonia and Russia for the final spots.

Considered Puerto Rico's greatest all-around indoor player after a standout collegiate career at Penn State, Hernandez started playing full-time on the beach in 2003 with Papaleo when the pair started their bid for the Athens Games. The 33-year old Papaleo has concentrated more on the beach game where he began playing on the United States domestic tour after his collegiate career at IUPU-Fort Worth.

"This tournament is huge for us," said Hernandez, who will turn 32 next month. "In addition to getting a chance to play before the local fans, we have a great opportunity to improve our Olympic qualifying point totals as all of the European teams ahead of us on the list are not here due to their participation in their continental championships this weekend in Germany."

With 920 Olympic qualifying points for their best eight finishes on the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour since January 2003, Hernandez and Papaleo need to place 17th or higher this weekend to improve their Athens standings. The four teams that trail the Puerto Ricans on the list will be competing in the $180,000 Carolina Open, including John Child and Mark Heese.

The 1996 Atlanta bronze medallists and fifth place finishers in Sydney, Child and Heese have been plagued by injuries since the start of the qualifying process and have 854 Olympic points to rank 21st followed by Austria's Peter Gartmayer and Robert Nowotny at 802 points. Canadians Jody Holden and Conrad Leinemann are just outside the top 22 with 754 points.

"The teams from Argentina, Australia, Brazil and the United States will be favourites this weekend, but every week some qualifying or lower ranked teams had made some noise," Hernandez added. "We hope we are the one's making the noise this week."

Hernandez was speaking of Gartmayer and Nowotny, who had to qualify for the Main Draw at March's South Africa stop where they won six-straight matches before placing fourth in Cape Town. One of Austrian's upset wins was over Benjamin Insfran and Marcio Araujo of Brazil, the No. 2-ranked team on the Olympic qualifying list and the top-seeded team this week.

The Puerto Rican's best finish on the international tour was a ninth last October at the FIVB World Championships in Rio de Janeiro. The pair also posted a ninth two weeks ago in the Serbia and Montenegro Open before placing 17th last week in Portugal.

After the Carolina Open, the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour moves to Europe for the final four Olympic qualifying events in Switzerland, Germany, Norway and Spain. The beach volleyball competition at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games will be played August 14-25.

The Carolina Open, presented by GlaxoSmithKline, started here Wednesday with the first of two days of Qualification Tournament action to determine the final nine berths in the 32-team Main Draw. The double-elimination Main Draw starts Friday and concludes Sunday where the winning team will share the $27,000 for capturing the gold medal.