|FORTALEZA, BRAZIL, March 10, 2004 - Teams from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, France, Italy, Norway and the United States won their final Qualification Tournament matches here Wednesday on the Praia de Iracema to advance to the Main Draw for the 2004 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour season opener.
In addition to the top-seeded qualifying team of Carrie Busch/Nancy Mason from the United States, other teams advancing to the Main Draw were Summer Lochowiz/Kerri Pottharst of Australia, Larissa Franca/Juliana Felisberta Silva of Brazil, Gabriele Jobst/Patricia Stragliotto of Canada, Milagros Crespo/Imara Esteves Ribalta of Cuba, Ethel-Julie Arjona/Virginie Kadjo of France, Laura Bruschini/Annamaria Solazzi of Italy and Susanne Glesnes/Kathrine Maaseide of Norway.
Highlighting the morning competition that started with a light rain followed by hot and humid conditions on the Praia de Iracema was the advancement by Pottharst, the Gold Medalist at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games with Natalie Cook. The seventh-seeded Pottharst and Lochowicz defeated 25th-seeded Isabelle Forrer and Annik Skrivan of Switzerland 21-16 and 21-12 to advance to Thursday's opening Main Draw rounds.
Although seeded fourth in the 34-team Qualification Tournament, a 21-19 and 21-18 win by Crespo and Esteves Ribalta over 22nd-seeded Ana Richa and Vanilda Santos Leão of Brazil proved to be the morning's most exciting match as the Cubans were challenged throughout the match.
"This was an important win for us," said Esteves Ribalta after the match. "Any time you beat a quality team from a host country, especially from Brazil, you have accomplished something. Although we had the edge in playing together longer as a team, the Brazilians made us earn every point. This was the Brazilians first tournament together while we are playing in our 11th."
By advancing to the 32-team Main Draw, Crespo and Esteves Ribalta improved their chances for a spot in the 2004 Athens Games. "Our success today really helps our Olympic goals, but now we must take advantage of the Main Draw berth with a good placement and a couple of match wins."
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 top-ranked Italian team of Daniela Gattelli and Lucilla Perrotta withdrew from the Main Draw Wednesday. Due to Perrotta's knee problem, a losing team from Wednesday's Qualification Tournament will replace the Italians, who placed ninth at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.