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Saturday, 26 July 2014
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SWATCH WORLD TOUR 2011: BLOG



Adriana Behar - London will have a unique energy

The test event in London at the moment is a really important occasion. It is the first step on the way to the Olympics and a chance for players to feel the atmosphere first hand ahead of next year.

It’s an exciting time and gives officials and organisers a good chance to check everything will run smoothly come the real thing.

I never had the opportunity to be in a test event when I was playing. If I could I would have loved to. It means you can become familiar with where you’re going to play and get used to the sensation. It will make you feel more comfortable and help you get ready and acts as a good chance to see where you are going to play. It will be good for confidence come next year so players can get there in 2012 and think “I’ve already been here and feel comfortable.” I would love to be there.

Playing in the centre of London will make the event so exciting. Players will be able to feel the energy of the city and that will make them feel even more proud than they inevitably will be anyway. This is important as when it comes to the real event, which will last ten or 15 days, they will need that energy to help them through. They will be there not representing a tandem but their country. It will be the same with Rio 2016 as it has a unique energy, just like London. I looked at some of the photos and thought “wow, that’s going to be amazing.”

As for who will come out on top, I think the Chinese duo Xi/Zhang will do well. No team will be looking at this event as a test. It’s a real tournament and one of the big ones for this year as there is a good level of athletes playing.

At the moment it seems that I wasn’t too far off in my predictions at the beginning of the year looking at the World Tour as a whole. The main challengers on this year’s circuit, and probably at next year’s Olympic Games will be Alison/Emanuel and Rogers/Dalhausser while on the women’s side it will be Walsh/May-Treanor and Juliana/Larissa. All four teams are continuing to play well and are doing a good job. It’s also good to see new teams coming through the ranks such as Van Iersel/Keizer from the Netherlands and Cicolari/Menegatti from Italy. They continue to impress.

Adriana Behar is a former Brazilian beach volleyball and volleyball player and, along with Shelda Bede, holds the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour record for most gold medals won on the circuit with 31. A two-time Swatch world champion (in 1999 and 2001), she also won the Tour title six times (from 1997 to 2001 and in 2004) and claimed two Olympic silver medals at the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Games. She currently lives in Rio de Janeiro and was a member of the commission for athletes in the bid for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. She also works for the Brazilian Olympic Committee and forms part of the Organizing Committee for the 2016 Games. Additionally, she is involved in the Sports Ambassadors Project for "Banco do Brasil" and travels around the country encouraging sports and physical activity, helping to improve the quality of life. Other projects have included being a consultant and partner in sports projects such as the "Tour do Rio" cycling event and the Center of Sports and Training in Rocinha. She was the first woman to hold the position of Head of Mission of the Youth Olympic Games for the 2010 Games in Singapore and is currently working towards a Masters in Sports Management at the Brazilian Olympic Committee.




Sinjin Smith - Alison and Emanuel will only get stronger

Watching the World Tour at this stage it is clear to me that Brazil’s Alison and Emanuel are now steaming ahead of many other teams on the circuit.

When Alison first joined the tour he was physically strong but his skills weren’t quite refined. But since then, with every event he has adjusted and he keeps getting better and better. For Emanuel, the fact he’s played for so long, with many different partners is incredible. Physically he has held up better than anyone in the sport and that proves he is a special athlete. They are going to be difficult to beat going forward and there is enough time between now and the Olympics for them to become a better team. Every time they play Alison improves further and together with Emanuel's experience, they will continue to be the favourite.

But where does this leave Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers? I spoke with Randy Stoklos [Sinjin’s former partner and fellow World Tour winner 1989-1992] who was in Moscow and he said he could tell that Phil’s ankle was still bothering him and he was not at 100%. Once his ankle has healed completely, they should be able to get back their confidence and truly challenge the number one team.

With the injury to Phil, more teams are serving at him. With serves previously going to Todd it was something that Phil rarely had to deal with. Even though some teams are having success with this strategy at this time, this will make Phil an even better offensive player and when he does get back to 100 per cent, he could be an even better player than he is today.

I understand that some players are taking a break from playing. If they are not injured, the only way they become better is by competition. The other thing to remember is that these players are professionals and they only way they make a living is by playing. The athletes career is volatile and can end at any time so it is important to get it while it is hot. Sometimes athletes feel like their playing days will never end and for some it is always a surprise when it happens. It will happen to everyone, some sooner than others.

Alison and Emanuel will be hard to catch but you cannot forget about Phil and Todd and they could still bounce back to take the tour title. Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann are another team who could win at any moment and come back into contention, as could Marcio-Araujo and Ricardo, but it will be even harder for these two duos and there are probably eight other possible event winners to beat the two top teams consistently from here on in.

On the women’s side, I think it would be fair to say that after coming back together for this season, Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor were out of sync. They had a lot of things going on because of the break but I think the problem was more mental than anything else. They know they can beat anyone when they are on their game but they just needed the time to almost relearn that they can win if they play as a team. There is nothing better for confidence than winning and that win in Moscow, coupled with the one in Beijing a few weeks ago, would have helped them gain confidence as they look towards the London Olympic Games.

Juliana and Larissa are definitely still he team to beat though. They have proven themselves and know that they have even more to prove when it comes to Olympic time. I am sure that Juliana can already taste the Olympic competition after missing China because of her serious knee injury. I am still amazed how strong she is today because not everyone is able to come back as strong as she did after the type of injury and surgery she went through.

The great thing about the sport of international beach volleyball today is that any team can step it up at any point when they put everything together. Look at the Dutch pair Marleen Van Iersel and Sanne Keizer. They came through and won two tournaments in a row. There are more and more great athletes playing the game but the difference between good teams and great teams is the ability to win consistently.

The Dutch could easily challenge regularly, as could Italians Greta Cicolari and Marta Menegatti, who seem to have come out of nowhere and begun challenging. Sara Goller and Laura Ludwig from Germany are another one, as are Antonelli and Talita who are often overlooked because of Juliana and Larissa. The Chinese are also always a threat as well as the the other American team of Jen Kessy and April Ross.

With so many good teams today, every event is exciting because you know that there are more than just two teams that can win.

Sinjin Smith is a former USA beach volleyball player who won the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour four times from its foundation in 1989 to 1992 with Randy Stoklos. Winning a total of 20 medals on the World Tour, including 10 gold, he was a driving force behind the growth of beach volleyball in the 1980s and 1990s and was the first player, along with Stoklos, to clinch 100 career open victories, a record he still holds to this day at 146. Often regarded as the original “King of the Beach” he was honoured as part of the FIVB’s Greatest Team in Beach Volleyball history in 2003 and is currently a member of the FIVB Beach Volleyball Commission. He has been a part of the FIVB since the inception of the beach volleyball programme and helped build and develop the World Tour, as well as playing a vital role in getting the sport into the Olympic Games. Sinjin is a longtime resident of Pacific Palisades where he lives with his wife, Patty, and the couple’s three children, Hagen, Stanton and Sinjin, Jr.





Kerri Pottharst - Juliana and Larissa team to beat for 2011

My hat goes off to Julianna and Larissa for their great win in the World Championships. Although they nearly lost it in the final set it took a lot for them to dig deep and close the four point gap. This was a sign of how much self belief they have right now. Most teams would’ve thrown in the towel at that point, especially against the calibre of Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, but the Brazilians just wouldn’t give up.

After this win and their results over the past three years, Julianna and Larissa will be extremely determined to not only make it to London 2012, but to take home the gold. They were right on target leading up to Beijing in 2008, when Julianna tore her crutiate ligament, so now I’m sure they will be doing everything they can to make up for that. This win will give them another massive boost of confidence. I predict that they will be hard to beat for the remainder of this year.

The only danger I can see with this team moving into next year is burn out. They play almost every FIVB Swatch World Tour event and then play many national tour events in Brazil. They rarely get a break. I find it quite incredible how not only this Brazilian team, but all the Brazilians on the World Tour, can physically withstand that amount of competition. There’s no doubt that it is the reason why the Brazilians are such a world force, but they have to be careful in the lead up to London next year. They really need to take sufficient rest in the lead up to make sure they have 100% in the tank when it counts. This applies to their emotions as well as their physicality. Burn out can happen mentally and take its toll just as hard as it can if you have a physical injury. One small loss can turn into another, then another, then self doubt creeps in and all of a sudden you’ve lost your dominance. This is definitely what the top teams need to take care of as we move closer to London.

Despite finishing second last weekend, it is amazing to see Walsh and May-Treanor at the top again, so quickly. As they say, “cream always rises to the top” and that is exactly what happened in Rome. The two top women’s teams slugged it out in the final.

With a little more focus and a few more wins under their belts, they will gain the strength and consistency they will need to be in contention for the gold in London.

Looking at the results of the remainder of the event, it can often be the luck of the draw that makes it easier for some teams to get out of their pools and make it through the single elimination while other teams, and higher seeds, struggle. With this format, anyone of the top 20 teams in the world could make it through to the final four and that’s what they have to be prepared for. If you do get a lucky break you’ve got to ride it for as long and as hard as you can! A little bit of luck, mixed with outstanding play and self belief could see (and already has seen) teams other than the USA or Brazil winning medals.

One of the most crucial elements of a champion is self belief. It’s your belief that gets you started on your journey, it’s belief that keeps you going in the face of adversity and it’s that last ounce of self belief that completes your journey to the very top. Belief is not fact (although we often act as if it were.) If a team thinks they are a top 10 team, that’s not a fact, that’s just their belief. Belief forms your reality. It’s based on what you feel and perceive of your experiences. It’s a set of rules by which you conduct yourself. So, if you change the belief from “we’re a top 10 team” to “we’re a top four team” then you’ll find that you conduct yourself like a top four player and your results actually improve.

So how do you build self belief, especially if you haven’t yet achieved this? You train yourself to believe, just like you train to spike the ball. Knowing that you’ve done all the physical work is often not enough. Knowing that you’ve planned every step of the way, knowing that you’ve cleared your limiting beliefs and doubts and that you’re ok with being out of your comfort zone is a good start. You sometimes even have to “fake it, until you make it.”

Previous world champions, Jen Kessy and April Ross, who dominated the tour just a year or two ago, seem to have lost a bit of that belief. If they can build on their previous wins and regain their confidence, then they too will be rising to the top once more. Many athletes self-sabotage their results by unconsciously believing they are not good enough to be winning.

As for the men’s contest, Alison and Emanuel did exceptionally well, but Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers should also be proud despite what they would consider a disappointing finish. For someone like Phil who has a big job to do with jump serving and running to the net to block, it is a lot of work. To have an ankle injury and do as well as he did is a credit to him. Although I heard he was advised against playing, I’m sure the fact that it was such an important event made him want to get out there to play and perform at his best.

Almost every player on the Tour is carrying some sort of injury, you can tell from all the colourful tape over shoulders, knees and backs! Saying that however, no one would use it as an excuse and luckily beach volleyball is a sport you can play even with minor injuries and niggles.

Teams that didn’t achieve what they set out to at this tournament won’t be disappointed for long. There are still many events to improve this season and the London Olympic Games are still a year away. They will be focusing on the things they did well and the matches they did win. They’ll be focusing on why they won and will put anything else behind them. It’s the teams that are at the top now that will need to keep that momentum for another 12 months. I’d be watching out for the pack just below the final four, out of these teams will come at least one or two surprise medallists next year in London!

Kerri Pottharst is a former Australian beach volleyball and volleyball player and famously won gold along with Nathalie Cook at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games in front of her home fans. She also claimed bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and competed at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. She last played on the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour in 2004 but since then has married and had a 5 yrs old son called Tyson. She is a highly sought after Motivational Speaker as well as spending time on the sand coaching beach volleyball. Most recently, Kerri has released a book titled “The Business of Being an Athlete” a step-by-step guide on how the right attitude, the right tools, and the right approach took her from being a part-time athlete to becoming a multi-award winning champion, a hot property for sponsorship, and a successful entrepreneur. For more information on Kerri visit www.kerripottharst.com or www.thebusinessofbeinganathlete.com




Sinjin Smith
Tournaments like the world champs make you find an extra gear

As an athlete I’ve been asked if you consciously move up a gear during important tournaments such as the World Championships. It isn’t a manual process. It’s automatic and you don’t need to tell yourself to play at 110 per cent because your body already knows that. Obviously you try as hard as possible to win every match you play in but when so much is at stake and it is such an important tournament you naturally go up an extra level. It’s the nature of the beast. You give it your all every time you play but more so at the World Championship and at the Olympic Games.

It is this type of mentality which helped Casey Jennings and Kevin Wong pick up an opening win over Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers. I know Phil is coming into the tournament carrying an injury to his ankle and I haven’t spoken to him yet, but despite the loss they seem to be back on track now. The interesting thing about an injury is that playing with one often makes you try even harder in an effort to counter-balance it. As for Casey and Kevin I know they will be happy with the victory. They are a top team so beating another top pair like Phil and Todd is always great, regardless of how you do it.

Looking further afield, Emanuel and Alison are also doing well. If you had to make a bet before the tournament you would bet on them. They’re primed right now, but anything can happen. I didn’t expect Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann to win the last World Championships and that proves that you just don’t know.

The Germans are in with a chance of defending their title and they’re one of the teams I’d be scared to play. They can rise to the challenge at big occasions such as this one for whatever reason that may be and can never be counted out.

It’s great to see Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor returning again to the women’s tournament. When they play well it is very difficult to beat them and this is the perfect time for them to step up and make their mark this year. They remain strong favourites.

Juliana and Larissa have the experience as well though and can never be ignored given their performances last year. They’ve been in this position before and know what needs to be done to win this time around.

The Netherland’s Sanne Keizer and Marleen Van Iersel stepping up to the plate is great news. They have the momentum coming into the tournament so they will also be watched closely now. It would also be good to see Italy do well in front of their home fans. It would be great for the sport as a whole if they came away with a medal and throw even more teams into contention for future tournaments.

This is the great thing about beach volleyball. It’s still a relatively new sport. Teams are emerging all over the world and many countries have made no secret about investing, training and developing. We’ll continue to see more new teams and countries improve next year and the years following which will only make the sport more fascinating and exciting.

Sinjin Smith is a former USA beach volleyball player who won the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour four times from its foundation in 1989 to 1992 with Randy Stoklos. Winning a total of 20 medals on the World Tour, including 10 gold, he was a driving force behind the growth of beach volleyball in the 1980s and 1990s and was the first player, along with Stoklos, to clinch 100 career open victories, a record he still holds to this day at 146. Often regarded as the original “King of the Beach” he was honoured as part of the FIVB’s Greatest Team in Beach Volleyball history in 2003 and is currently a member of the FIVB Beach Volleyball Commission. He has been a part of the FIVB since the inception of the beach volleyball programme and helped build and develop the World Tour, as well as playing a vital role in getting the sport into the Olympic Games. Sinjin is a longtime resident of Pacific Palisades where he lives with his wife, Patty, and the couple’s three children, Hagen, Stanton and Sinjin, Jr.





Paul Laciga - Atmosphere in Rome is great

See the interview here

The atmosphere here in Rome for the World Championships is great. The crowd is into the matches, the location is very nice and the stadium is big, I hope the Italians can fill it! It’s getting hotter as well so I’m trying to stay in the shade.

What is a little special here is that the tournament is six days. Normally they are four days or five days, so people might have to adapt to only playing once a day. They often have to train during the day and it is interesting to watch the teams practising a little bit, that’s new to me as normally you only see them playing. Also there are much more coaches around than normal. It is funny to see coaches with balls on the court. That is something new that wasn’t there two or three years ago. I like to be very close to the courts, sometimes you can’t be but sometimes on the side courts you can be three metres from the action.

I said before the tournament that I like Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor. They were first in their pool and still look very good and are still my favourites. I also see the Netherland team (Marleen Van Iersel and Sanne Keizer) on top of their pool. I don’t see many surprises yet, its going as expected, but the elimination round starts tomorrow and that is when the big surprises will come.

For Switzerland and the women’s side Simone Kuhr and Nadine Zumkehr came second in their pool but unfortunately they suffered a loss to the Schwaiger sisters from Austria in the Round of 32. But as a whole I think the Swiss federation and the Swiss people are satisfied with the women’s side.

Being here is nostalgic but I don’t think I’d play again. I wish I could, but I figured out that everyone gets older, even me. My knee also says ‘don’t even try again’. I have some problems with my right knee and I also had surgery and there’s no chance of playing on a normal level. I’m happy to play a little bit of beach volleyball with my friends. This level is nice to see, but I know when it is time to just watch. But I still see some guys at my age still playing very, very well. I don’t know how they do it, but they do well.

I have to go home on Friday night, but I am sure the FIVB will televise everything after so there is no problem for me.


Laciga picks Emanuel and Alison for men's world title

Given recent results on the World Tour, this year’s World Championships could be won by a whole host of teams.
It is very hard to pick a favourite and is not as clear as it has been in past years. However, saying that, I think Emanuel and Alison will win the men’s title. However I hope Phil and Todd can play well as they also have a chance. Phil was injured in Beijing so a quick recovery could see them back in contention. Those two teams are always contenders in finals and have met many times in the past, putting on a great display almost all the time.

Germany’s Brink and Reckermann could also surprise everyone and defend their title. They have had a bit of a break and missed a tournament. The only problem in taking a break is balancing how much time to take off, sometimes it can be too long so they will be hoping they can quickly find their rhythm again in Beijing and carry that through to Rome.

The Dutch pair, Van Iersel and Keizer, could do well in the women’s tournament as could Italians Cicolari and Menegatti. It was surprising to see both pairs do so well over the past few weeks but a welcome one none the less.
 
Of course you can’t write off Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor. They are a team I like watching play and they have a lot of experience so can never be excluded. And you can never forget the Brazilians with Juliana and Larissa. They left Beijing early after dropping out of the tournament so the few extra days could help them enormously in the build up to the tournament. They should arrive fresh and ready to compete.

But for all the speculation I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else also comes out on top. Because of the single elimination system after the pool games, matches can sometimes come down to chance and the luck of the draw and because of that perhaps a team who are yet to win a medal on the Tour this year could win.

You have to prepare for the competition in a different manner, keeping yourself physically sound in the lead up to the event. I personally always prepared myself physically different for the World Championships and the Olympic Games, and some players may also do so and do miss a few tournaments leading up to it for extra training or to recover. It’s going to be hard coming from China. The jet lag will be difficult so the pools could have some surprises as a result of that.

As for the Swiss pairs, Simone Kuhn and Nadine Zumkehr are in with a good chance. They beat Juliana and Larissa in Beijing and also pushed Misty and Kerri very close. They are mentally strong and have a realistic chance at a medal.

The Swiss men also have a chance for a medal. I talked to many people before the season started about who they think is the best men’s Swiss team at the moment but no one could say for certain. Sascha Heyer and Sebastian Chevallier have had some great results in the past few weeks and I am a fan of Sascha’s new partner. Sebastian has come to the Tour for the first time this year and seems very relaxed, sometimes more so than he is in training. He plays like he has been around for 10 years and from what I’ve seen so far he deals with the pressure well.

As for my brother Martin, I know he can play better than the results are showing. For him, the extra day for qualifying makes it harder. He has been playing for a long time now so the extra few matches can be a disadvantage. But at the World Championships there are no qualification matches so perhaps now is his time to shine and maybe repeat what he and I did in 1997 when we won silver. I hope that we begin to see Swiss teams winning medals regularly again as it was a few years ago.

Doing so well at the most important beach volleyball tournament in the world was a special moment for me.

Paul Laciga is a former beach volleyball player who clinched the silver medal at both the 1999 and 2005 FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Championship, firstly with brother Martin and then with Sascha Heyer. He also won five FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour gold medals as well as three European Championships in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and is a two-time Olympian.





Adriana Behar - Dealing with pressure a must at World Championships

Although most of the teams are taking to the Chinese sand in Beijing this week, most will be looking towards next week’s World Championships in Rome with an eager eye.

Over the past few weeks it has been great to see many different teams on the podium. Van Iersel and Keizer’s wins in Myslowice and Shanghai were a really good surprise, as was seeing the Italian pair Cicolari and Menegatti win silver in Poland alongside them. They played well and in my opinion they will continue to do so as they are a young team. The pressure to win is often on the other side of the net and this was the case in with their match against Kessy and Ross in China a few weeks ago. They had nothing to lose and no expectations at all. But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that they are a solid pairing. It is a sign that the level is becoming more equal and beach volleyball needs that to motivate teams.

Dealing with pressure and expectation is tough. It happened to me and Shelda in Sydney [losing to Australia’s Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst in the final of the Olympic Games]. You need to know how to deal with it. On the other side, new teams need to find ways of improving gradually. That’s what makes this sport so amazing. Anyone can be a challenger on their day.

Despite having a lot of pressure on them, Juliana and Larissa are still my favourites to win the World Championships. Although they lost in Beijing early on, they have been out for two events and maybe lost a little focus. But they are strong and want to win so I imagine it was just a small problem which they will fix. The World Championships is a special, important, unique event and they will want to make every moment count.

The same could be said for Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser at the moment.

When you have someone winning all the time it is often hard to find their weakness. Now that they have lost a few times everyone is watching them and working out that they are not invincible.

But Phil and Todd need to respond and get better, play harder and get their passion back in the game by reconstructing their strategy. This is a good opportunity for them to make a big step and improve even further.

Their main challengers in Rome are likely to be Alison and Emanuel. However, a few other teams could upset them. Cunha and Pedro can beat anyone on their day and the Swiss pair Heyer and Chevallier have also had a boost recently. Brink and Reckermann will also want to defend their title, and they are a team I love to watch. Their tactic is similar to Phil and Todd’s. Each player has a specific function and they have a lot of courage and challenge every block which I like.

This is an exciting time for the sport with so many teams developing. It is important to move forward, to have many teams fighting for tournaments. It’s good for the fans, for sponsors and it needs to continue to happen to help this brilliant sport grow even further.

Adriana Behar is a former Brazilian beach volleyball and volleyball player and, along with Shelda Bede, won 31 FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour gold medals. A two-time Swatch world champion (in 1999 and 2001), she also won the Tour title six times (from 1997 to 2001 and in 2004) and claimed two Olympic silver medals at the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Games. She currently lives in Rio de Janeiro and was a member of the commission for athletes in the bid for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. She also works for the Brazilian Olympic Committee and forms part of the Organizing Committee for the 2016 Games. Additionally, she is involved in the Sports Ambassadors Project for "Banco do Brasil" and travels around the country encouraging sports and physical activity, helping to improve the quality of life. Other projects have included being a consultant and partner in sports projects such as the "Tour do Rio" cycling event and the Center of Sports and Training in Rocinha. She was the first woman to hold the position of Head of Mission of the Youth Olympic Games for the 2010 Games in Singapore and is currently working towards a Masters in Sports Management at the Brazilian Olympic Committee.




Jörg Ahmann - European teams finally seeing dividends

Well, as I said, victory for Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser wasn’t guaranteed. Congratulations to Alison and Emanuel who picked up their first gold medal as a team in Prague and proved that with the right tactics, anyone can win on their day.

On this occasion the Brazilian’s tactics worked well as Dalhausser played a number of side outs from serves. Other teams will now pick this up and use it to their advantage but Rogers and Dalhausser will look to fix it this week and come back stronger and more determined than ever. I really love their attitude and their endeavour to keep improving and keep pushing to better themselves and this setback will not stop them moving forward.

Congratulations also to Sascha Heyer and Sebastian Chevallier and their bronze medal. It’s a fantastic result and especially as it was only their second tournament together.

Naturally I was disappointed to hear that Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann had to withdraw because of injury. I said before that they had a chance to do well in Prague but it seems fate had other ideas. The side could be accused of not having the same mindset they had two years ago, but I highly doubt that. They can beat any team in the world on their day, and often have. The problem now is finding their rhythm in time for the World Championships. They’ve missed a tournament now and a team playing towards the World Championships has a programme that they need to work to. I hope they can still adapt and make it.

At this stage, one tournament before Rome, a team should solidly be in the top four teams. But Grand Slam elimination is always a surprise and matches are often luck of the draw. It’s so hard to predict what will happen in the lead up to that as there are so many teams, right down into the qualifiers, who could come out on top

As for the women it is clear now that the professional work in Europe is finally paying off. Sanne Keizer and Marleen Van Iersel played phenomenally well yet again and it was good to see an Italian pair in the final.

In all honesty I was betting on Sara Goller and Laura Ludwig beating them in the semifinal and was very surprised they didn’t!

The thing with the European sides that are winning at the moment is that they are still very young and don’t have much experience on the tour, which is promising as they have a few years to become wiser.

However, the teams to watch at the World Championships will be Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor and Juliana and Larissa. The difference between the US and the Brazilian duos and the European teams is that they are older and more experienced. However, as the European teams keep playing on the tour, they will overtake them eventually.

The European teams took a big step last weekend but they need to keep beating their rivals across the Atlantic. Once that it is in their head that they can beat them we’ll see more and more teams from the continent contesting top spots. That’s what happened at the 2009 Men’s World Championships as we saw Brink and Reckermann beat Brazilian and USA teams on the way to winning the title. It gave them confidence.



Victory for Rogers and Dalhausser far from guaranteed

We’ve already had two exciting stops on the FIVB Swatch World Tour this year, but I have no doubt the Prague Open can live up to both of these.

Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser will almost certainly be the team to beat at the Prague Open. They have both already improved from last year and if anything, they are even more perfect than before. What is different from last year is that Phil is taking a lot more control by attacking a lot more second balls.

However, the win is far from guaranteed and I think it is time for a few other teams to shine. Sean Rosenthal and Jacob Gibb had a good result in Shanghai and should not be underestimated. They continue to improve in each tournament and will no doubt push their American friends close.

A number of the Brazilian pairs are still improving as well. They are undoubtedly good and are better than many, but have lacked the edge to win this year. Perhaps it could happen in Prague.

Of course I naturally hope the German teams do well. Jonas Reckermann and Julius Brink have had two good results already this year but could still do better. They’re gradually coming back to where they were in 2009, and where they need to be now, but haven’t yet found their rhythm. They are capable of beating Phil and Todd though.

There are a so many German teams playing this week and a lot are fighting each other in the Country Quotas. It is a tough test for them but if you do make it through it helps you psychologically for the qualifications and Main Draw.

As for the home teams, I think they are having a lot of trouble at the moment. The Czech Republic have some good players but as most of them play indoor it means this will be their first event and could need some time to adapt.

As always it is hard to pick a winner. Todd and Phil will always be in with a shot as will Roesnthal and Gibb. However nobody can write of the Spaniards Adrian Gavira and Pablo Herrera. I expect it to be very tight. I hope Julius and Jonas win, although in some ways I hope they keep it until Rome and the World Championships!

As for the women in Myslowice it is likely to be a Brazilian and American winner again. The Brazilians are struggling however, and besides Juliana and Larissa and some others.

In saying that Sanne Keizer and Marleen Van Iersel did brilliantly in Shanghai and there are some new, up-and-coming European teams.

A lot of teams could win it and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new winner again. Maybe it’s Sara Goller and Laura Ludwig’s turn to win. They have had a lot of second place finishes, now could be perfect time.

Jörg Ahmann is a former German beach volleyball player who won bronze at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games in Australia with Axel Hager. He also won two silver and two bronze medals on the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour and represented his country at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. He is currently coach of the German youth and junior beach volleyball teams and also regularly holds one-week training camps for players. He also wrote “Beach Volleyball Tactics for Winners” on how to get on top in beach volleyball.





Xu Linyin - We should be satisfied with performance in Shanghai

Generally speaking, we played well in Shanghai. We are not in our best shape, but we have won some good matches and we are getting better.

The victory over [German pair] Eric Koreng and David "Hase" Klemperer is very meaningful. In the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, we lost to them, and we have not gained a win against them for a very long time. At the time it was one of the most heartbreaking losses. Today, we got sweet revenge. This victory is a confidence boost for us because now we have won against all top teams from all over the world. It will be of great help in our preparation for the London Olympic Games.

It's pity we lost in the afternoon. We played well in the first set, but they (Spain's Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira) changed a lot from the second set, especially in counter attacks. We were not able to adjust to that, then the momentum shifted and we lost control of the game.

I think we should be satisfied with our performance in Shanghai. Our top priority is to gain experience and qualification points for the Olympic Games. We have learned a lot from this tournament and I think we should improve our counter attacking abilities.

It feels great to play at home, the fans have given us so much support. I was born in Shanghai, so my family also comes to watch my game. Hopefully I can have better results in the Shanghai Open next year.


We will try our best in Shanghai

I am very happy to return to Shanghai.

Two weeks ago, Wu Penggen and I finished with a bronze medal at the Brasilia Open. Now we are back home, we should also try our best. This year’s events are very important also because all the teams will strive to gain qualification points for the London 2012 Olympic Games, so we don’t want to be left behind.

The women’s competition of the Jinshan Open will be interesting to watch. Despite the withdrawal of May-Treanor/Walsh, it’s still a very exciting event. I think the Chinese duo of Xue Chen and Zhang Xi have a great chance to win the title on home soil and I wish them good luck. Of course they have to be careful with Juliana/Larissa, the Brazilian teams are always difficult to beat.

The new team hotel of Royal Fulip is superb and very comfortable to stay in! Many players from abroad are also satisfied with the facilities and atmosphere.

All the courts here in Jinshan have also been refurbished for this year’s tournament and I heard it took over $4 million to do so. The start of this year’s event is connected with the Labour’s Day Holiday in China and I believe there will be more spectators coming to watch the fantastic matches contributed by elite beach volleyball players from all over the world. Moreover, I think the beautiful bay view in Jinshan and the tournament will help make the new town of Jinshan a popular destination for tourists.

Xu Linyin is a member of China's 2011 FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour beach volleyball team and partners Wu Penggen. They have been partners since the 2005 tour and regularly finish inside the top ten. Last year the tandem clinched their first two gold medals at the Moscow Grand Slam in Russia and at the Marseille Open in France. They also have six silver medals and four bronze medals.






Kerri Pottharst -
Sanya will deliver more excitement

I follow the tour rather closely being a former player and also having coached for two seasons on the FIVB and I must say that Juliana and Larissa look like they’re going to have another amazing season. It was an incredible win in Brasilia and I expect the excitement to continue in Sanya this week.

Kerri Walsh and Misty-May Treanor will not take their loss in the final lying down and will want to prove a point. They smashed everyone on the way through last week and I know they will have found a new energy after reuniting. When Nat Cook and I got back together after a year apart in 1998 we loved it. Because you’ve been there before, there are no surprises, no need to “get used to each other” and Kerri and Misty seem to have hit the ground running. For Kerri to return so soon after having kids is amazing, just on its own. She’s an incredible athlete and to be able to finish second in the world at her first event back is unheard of. She’s truly a role model for women who want to return to sport after kids. It must have been so special to have her kids there with her, as well.

We also saw another US team in the top 4, Brook Hanson and Lauren Fendrick who were a bit of a surprise package in Brasilia. They will now have a target on their backs, but will hope to repeat their successes as they head into the next few events. All US pairs are just testing the water, after a long off season, but they will no doubt pick up even more further into the tour.

Coming back to my former partner Nat Cook, she finished 25th in Brasilia with her new partner Tara West. They had a pretty tough time against some handy opponents from China and Georgia. But Tara’s never played on the tour before, she’s come straight from Indoor Volleyball. I’m betting that they will keep improving as they go on. They were wildcards in Brasilia and now need to qualify in the next few events. This is a battle in itself. There are so many quality teams in the qualifiers these days. It will again be tight this week in Sanya.

The other Australian pair, Bawden and Palmer, had a great start to the year, qualifying and then finishing 9th in Brasilia. They are a young side and did a great job taming USA’s Kessy and Ross in the first round. They’ll be looking to cement that as a benchmark now. Both are physical and fit and will go a long way. They are the future of Australian beach volleyball.

Looking ahead this season, I think it’s important for all the teams to pick which events throughout the year that they will peak for. It’s very difficult to expect your body and your mind to be at its best all year around. . I remember we usually used to pick two or three tournaments only, to really peak at throughout the season. That didn’t mean we didn’t still try to win every game, it just meant that we periodised our training and allowed our bodies (and minds!) to rest occasionally.

With the Olympics just around the corner, each team will know where they want to be at the end of the year and I’m sure they would’ve planned out how to get there by now.

The next two events in China will no doubt be where the Chinese duos intend to shine. I expect the home crowd to get behind them and for them to pick up a lot of points. They’ll be doing everything the can to make the final 4. Look out!

Kerri Pottharst is a former Australian beach volleyball and volleyball player and famously won gold along with Nathalie Cook at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games in front of her home fans. She also claimed bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and competed at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. She last played on the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour in 2004 but since then has married and had a 5 yrs old son called Tyson. She is a highly sought after Motivational Speaker as well as spending time on the sand coaching beach volleyball. Most recently, Kerri has released a book titled “The Business of Being an Athlete” a step-by-step guide on how the right attitude, the right tools, and the right approach took her from being a part-time athlete to becoming a multi-award winning champion, a hot property for sponsorship, and a successful entrepreneur. For more information on Kerri visit www.kerripottharst.com or www.thebusinessofbeinganathlete.com




Adriana Behar - All I can say is wow! What a start to the season

Larissa and Juliana pulled off an amazing win in the women’s final against Kerri and Misty. It was three sets of intense beach volleyball in what was an amazing atmosphere. Hats off to both teams for what was an outstanding performance in the opening event of the year. Of course, Juliana and Larissa had the Brazilian Tour to help them warm up for this event and because of that I picked them to win the title, but Kerri and Misty were incredible. To come back as a team after so long away and immediately jump into fourth gear is a testament to the character and believe of both individuals. They’re not two-time Olympic champions for nothing.

The level of play seen at the Brasilia Open to launch the FIVB Swatch World Tour 2011 season was the best I have ever seen. We have already confirmed the two top teams already making an exciting an hard-fought final. It is going to be like this all the way to London 2012 and I can’t wait. Larissa and Juliana will always be defending their FIVB Swatch World Tour title and Kerri and May coming back defending their Olympic gold medals. It’s hard to pick a London winner now but you can be sure that the journey is going to exciting and revealing to say the least.

Looking at the women’s competition overall and with Brazil and USA filling the top five positions, it looks like the usual trend of beach volleyball’s most famous nations dominating the season again however I don’t think it will be like that. Next week’s event in Sanya will throw up some other contenders, especially from the home nation with Beijing bronze medalists Xue-Zhang finishing seventh in Brazil and once the Tour reaches Europe it will be a very different scenario with many of the Europeans coming into their own.

A quick shout out to Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Hanson who performed so well to finish fourth, their best result since coming together in 2010 and also to the Italians Greta Cicolari and Marta Menegatti whose pre-season training in Rio obviously paid dividends and their 13th place finish bodes well for the FIVB Swatch World Championships coming up in June in Rome.

From the men's side it was another Brazil v USA final and while I said prior to the tournament that Emanuel and Alison would win it there was no beating the Olympic champions. Todd and Phill are the favorites and also the most experienced partnership, which is key in any operation. On the other side of the net was the young and strong Allison and the legend of beach volleyball Emanuel. Watch out for the two Brazilians. They will only get better and it won’t be the last time we see these two teams fighting it out for gold.

One last word to the fans of Brasilia. They contributed to an amazing atmosphere, showing how exciting and amazing the 2011 FIVB Swatch World Tour and the qualification process to London 2012 is, to reiterate the point that beach volleyball will be in great heart (and song) come Rio 2016.



Competition close in Brasilia

All the talk before the tournament was all about Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor and they have proven to be up and ready for the season ahead. They came through a tough match with China’s Chen Xue and Xi Zhang and did very well and now happily sit in one of the women's semifinal positions.

I’m happy to see the Brazilian teams doing well, being lead by last year’s champs Juliana and Larissa who are happily sitting in the other semifinal. The win over Germany’s Laura Ludwig and Sara Goller really showed that Juliana and Larissa are already improving on last year. The Europeans are no easy team to beat and have often shown that they are a top-class duo, so for Juliana and Larissa to earn the victory was good.

The men’s competition is also beginning to heat up. Emanuel and Alison, Ricardo and Marcio Araujo and Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser are all still involved which means come the Easter weekend, and Brasilia’s 151st birthday, there should be some high quality beach volleyball on display.

It really is very hard to pick a winner at this stage, but I think Juliana and Larissa will clinch it for the women. Walsh and May-Treanor have been on good form but have only just reunited after two years apart and Juliana and Larissa’s chemistry since then has had a chance to truly blossom. Expect both to be in an exciting final though.

For the men Rogers and Dalhausser are looking very good. They were the top pair last year and while I still like Alison and Emanuel who, like Ricardo and Marcio, are performing very well the American pair aren't going to lie down easily, that's for sure.



Brasilia event will bring nerves


The start of the World Tour always brings about nervousness for all the players setting off on another round-the-world ride. With it being the year before the London 2012 Olympic Games it makes it all the more important.

I always saw the first event as being the only one in which teams are seen as even. It is the first time you get to see other pairs play and you begin to work out if they are playing any differently. Additionally, it helps you scout the new teams. You need to prepare well as after the first event the World Tour schedule allows little time for training and adapting, and you have to adapt in the tournaments.

Nevertheless, I expect it’s going to be a fantastic tournament yet again. Brasilia has always put on good beach volleyball competitions and the city has always welcomed the players with open arms. The atmosphere is truly special and it is one of the best events on the tour.

Competition for the women's podium places is going to be tight, as always! Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor returning is huge news and very important for the game. I expect they will be one of the teams to be wary of this year. Additionally, the women’s pairs from China are equally as hard to play against. They always have a lot of young players and you are never quite sure what they will bring to the table. They are always a surprise.

Of course last year’s champions Juliana and Larissa will be among the favourites as well. They and Antonelli and Talita, who will be just as tough to face, have been training really hard over the last few months and will want to begin well.

It’s going to be equally as close in the men’s event. Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser are always worth looking out for but I expect Alison and Emanuel to do well and get the home crowd cheering! They won the most recent tournament on the Brazil Tour earlier in April and have had a year to play as a pair. Alison is still young but has a very strong spike and will have been managed well by the more experience Emanuel. They are also coached by my former coach, Letícia Pessoa, so I know they are in good hands!

Although it would be great to be out on the sand as a player and relive the atmosphere, the game has changed so much. The level is constantly improving which is good for beach volleyball as it’s still a relatively young sport. Every year there are taller and more skilled players and, as one of the world’s most watched sports, it is important that athletes continue to improve.

Adriana Behar is a former Brazilian beach volleyball and volleyball player and, along with Shelda Bede, holds the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour record for most gold medals won on the circuit with 31. A two-time Swatch world champion (in 1999 and 2001), she also won the Tour title six times (from 1997 to 2001 and in 2004) and claimed two Olympic silver medals at the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Games. She currently lives in Rio de Janeiro and was a member of the commission for athletes in the bid for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. She also works for the Brazilian Olympic Committee and forms part of the Organizing Committee for the 2016 Games. Additionally, she is involved in the Sports Ambassadors Project for "Banco do Brasil" and travels around the country encouraging sports and physical activity, helping to improve the quality of life. Other projects have included being a consultant and partner in sports projects such as the "Tour do Rio" cycling event and the Center of Sports and Training in Rocinha. She was the first woman to hold the position of Head of Mission of the Youth Olympic Games for the 2010 Games in Singapore and is currently working towards a Masters in Sports Management at the Brazilian Olympic Committee.