|FORTALEZA, BRAZIL, March 9, 2004 - For Kerri Pottharst and her new Australian partner Summer Lochowicz, the 2004 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour season opener on Praia de Iracema is not just another event, but a three-act tournament.
Pottharst, the Gold Medalist at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games with Natalie Cook, and Lochowiz must win another match in the US$180,000 Brazilian Open Qualification Tournament Wednesday to have a chance to participate in Act Two.
In Act Two, the newly-formed Australian team must secure a top nine finish to post a "quality" finish during the qualifying process for the 2004 Athens Olympic Game. Act Three is the head-to-head competition with fellow country women Angela Clark and Kylie Gerlic for the second spot for Australia in August's Olympic Games.
"It will not be easy," said Pottharst, who teamed with Lochowicz to eliminate 32nd-seeded Yadeizi Abreu and Alejandra Garcia of Venezuela 21-13 and 21-15. The seventh-seeded Pottharst and Lochowicz must defeat 25th-seeded Isabelle Forrer and Annik Skrivan of Switzerland Wednesday to advance to the 32-team Main Draw.
"Summer is developing into a very good player. She is very similar to Natalie, but just needs more experience. She is a very strong and has the potential to be a good defender to play behind my block. We have a difficult task ahead of us if we are going to qualify for Athens. We have no room for error and must qualify, place in the main draw top nine and stay ahead of Angela and Kylie at each event."
Unlike Pottharst and Lochowicz, Clarke and Gerlic have already posted three Olympic qualifying marks. Two of their three finishes were at Grand Slam events in Los Angeles and Rio de Janerio. "We have only one Grand Slam stop this year in Germany," Pottharst noted, "so our mission is even tougher. We can not be upset by lower seeded teams and we must upset a few of the bigger names on the beach. We know the pressure is on us to perform well at each event. Due to the experience factor, I am the teacher and Summer the student."
Cook and Nicole Sanderson are currently ranked as Australia's top team after placing among the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour top four teams last season. Due to recent knee surgery for Cook, who also won the Bronze Medal with Pottharst at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the pair will miss this week's event. They are expected to return to competition at May's Greece stop.
The 34-team Qualification Tournament concludes Wednesday when eight teams advance to the Main Draw. The 32-team double-elimination Main Draw starts Thursday with the final four teams advancing to Saturday's semi-final matches. The medal matches will be played Sunday where the Gold Medal team wins the $27,000 first-place prize.
The Olympic process began last June in Greece and concludes July 11 when the 24 teams are determined for the August 14-24 Games in Athens. After this week's event, competition on the women's SWATCH-FIVB World Tour resumes May 19-23 in Rhodes, Greece followed by other qualifying events in China, Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Norway and Canada.