|Coming from a land-locked country makes you try a "little harder."
Not only does Switzerland have three of the top 10 teams in world, the European nation that is surrounded by Germany, Austria, Italy and France will qualify two teams for the beach volleyball competition at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
"And it could be three teams in the Olympics if it was allowed," said Sascha Heyer, who forms Switzerland's No. 3 team with Markus Egger. At the end of the 2003 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour, the Laciga brothers (Martin and Paul) were ranked third internationally behind two teams from Brazil and ahead of Swiss rivals Stefan Kobel and Patrick Heuscher. Heyer and Egger were ranked 10th.
"I think people are surprised to learn that Switzerland has three top-ranked beach volleyball teams in the world," said Heyer. "And don't forget about a fifth-place finish last week in the Swiss team in the FIVB women's opener in Fortaleza. "We are proud that we have been able to make a name for Swiss volleyball players internationally. Our country has not been that competitive indoors, but we have gained a lot of respect on the beach."
Heyer and Egger finished the 2003 season in style by winning the bronze medal at the European championships last August in Turkey before placing second at a SWATCH-FIVB World Tour event in Southern California where they lost to top-ranked Emanuel Rego and Ricardo Santos of Brazil in the Gold Medal match.
"I think we impressed the American crowd after we beat legendary Mike Whitmarsh and his partner Canyon Ceman in the semi-finals on their home soil in Los Angeles, said Heyer. "We have been playing as long as the Laciga brothers (Martin and Paul) on the beach, Heyer added. "The Lacigas made a decision early to play full-time on beach in the mid-1990s while we have devoted ourselves to the beach game the last three years."
Their decision to devote themselves to the beach game has paid off as Heyer and Egger as they are pushing the Lacigas and Kobel and Heuscher for a spot in the Olympics. "Unfortunately for our country, only two Swiss teams can get to the Olympics," said Paul Laciga.