Women's competition, Osaka
From 2 June To 6 June 2004

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"Surprising" & Unexpected Japanese Winners
OSAKA, JAPAN, June 4, 2004 - With more than 40 Japanese journalists in attendance to follow the exploits of Olympic hopefuls Chiaki Kusuhara and Ryo Tokuno, it was the play of veteran Mika Teru Saiki and her 23-year old partner Satoko Urata that "surprised" the Tannowa Beach crowd here Friday during the opening rounds of the US$180,000 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour event.

Kusuhara and Tokuno spent more than an hour with the local media after losing both of their matches to teams from China and Australia. The top-ranked Japanese pair is expected to compete in the Beach Volleyball competition at the 2004 Athens Games as they currently rank 17th on the Athens list with 24 teams advancing to the August Olympics.

"Surprising" beach fans is nothing new for Teru Saiki, who scored wins Friday with Urata over teams Bulgaria and Norway to guarantee the tandems best-ever finish together in 12 events together. Teru Saiki and Urata's best previous finishes were 25ths earlier this season in Brazil and here last August.

A "surprising" fourth-place finisher with Yukiko Takahashi in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, Teru Saiki took the 2001 and 2002 seasons off to have a child before returning to the beach last year at the urging of her husband. "I missed the competition," said Teru Saiki, "but the return has not been easy until today."

A mother of a two-year old son, Teru Saiki has struggled. "Playing in international qualifiers is not easy," she noted. Teru Saiki and Urata had never advanced from a SWATCH-FIVB World Tour Qualification Tournament to the Main Draw in nine tries. Two of their three Main Draw appearances so far have been as "wild card" participants.

With the host country receiving two spots in the Main Draw, Teru Saiki and Urata were placed in this week's Main Draw as Japan's No. 2-ranked team. Teru Saiki and Urata hope to produce another "surprise" Saturday starting with their first match against second-seeded Natalie Cook and Nicole Sanderson of Australia. Cook won the gold medal at the Sydney 2000 Games with Kerri Pottharst, who advanced to Saturday's play with Summer Lockowicz.

"We didn't feel the pressure today since so much was expected of Kusuhara and Tokuno," Saiki added. "We face an Olympic gold medallist in the first match, and again, no one expects us to win. However, our goal is to keep improving. I am also glad for Satoko to experience her first real success on the beach."

Other opening matches Saturday in the third-round of the winner's bracket has top-seeded Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar of Brazil playing 24th-seeded Ji Linjun and Zhang Xi of China, 21st-seeded Vasso Karadassiou and Efi Sfyri of Greece facing 29th-seeded Nila Ann Hakedal and Ingrid Torlen of Norway and sixth-seeded Suzanne Lahme and Danja Musch of Germany challenging third-seeded Nicole Schnyder-Benoit and Simone Kuhn of Switzerland.

The double-elimination Main Draw continues through Sunday when the final two teams play for the $27,000 first-place prize. Following Osaka, the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour has a weekend off before the final three Olympic qualifying events in Switzerland, Germany and Norway. The beach volleyball competition at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games will be played August 14-25.