Lausanne, Switzerland, March 27, 2013 - With 27 days until the beach volleyball season opening event, the Fuzhou Open, Australian beach volleyball legend Natalie Cook, a Sydney 2000 Olympic champion and the only women to have featured in all five Olympic beach volleyball competitions, looks ahead to the next nine months in which new female FIVB world champions and FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour winners will be crowned, as part of the FIVB blog series.
“The year following an Olympics is always ripe for the picking; the energy and investment that is required, physically, emotionally, mentally and financially for an Olympic campaign is all encompassing hence there is a massive opportunity for a team to cement themselves at the top of the tour. My pick would be the Chinese team of Chen Xue and Zhang Xi and from what I experienced personally in the Continental Cup final last year, there is a large pool of players coming through the ranks in China.
“Keep an eye on the Dutch team of Marleen van Iersel and Sanne Keizer and you can always count on the Brazilian and American combinations to be at the top. It will be interesting to see how the new combos perform under pressure.
“It is an interesting year. New partnerships get a chance to work out the rough edges, teams that have been pushing to bust into the main draw get a chance for some stability and consistent performances as they begin to see the fruits of their hard work over the last few years.
“There is of course the small matter of the World Championships in Stare Jablonki in Poland in July. With defending champions Larissa França and Juliana Felisberta da Silva having split at the end of last year, we will have new world champions. Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, the silver medallists from Rome 2011 have called it a day too, so that’s why I think the third team from the podium in Rome will be the ones who carry off the gold medal.
“Xue and Zhang Xi impressed on their way to winning bronze in the Eternal City, won bronze at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and they have been one of the most impressive sides on the World Tour in recent years. However, they will have extra motivation and will be hurting that they let the bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games and the World Tour title slip to Larissa and Juliana.
“With all that going for them I expect the pair to win both the World Championships and the World Tour this year.
“Van Iersel and Keizer, who are coached by Australian Victor Anfiloff, will be strong challengers, as will the other Dutch team of Madelein Meppellink and Sophie van Gestel. Russia’s Evgenia Ukolova and Ekaterina Khomyakova are looking promising, as are Italy’s Marta Menegatti and Greta Cicolari and Germany’s Katrin Holtwick and Ilka Semmler, both of whom have built up some momentum over the last couple of years.
“Of course it is always hard to ignore the Brazilians and whichever combinations they come up with. Likewise the US, so with Kerri pregnant and Misty having called it a day, the banner will pass to 2009 world champions and London 2012 silver medallists Jennifer Kessy, who recently married French player Andy Ces, and April Ross to fly the flag for them.
“As for Australia, our top women’s team – Taliqua Clancy and Louise Bawden - won every event across the summer in Australia as did Chris McHugh and Isaac Capper in the men’s tournaments and Taliqua is a new exciting talent to watch out for. Unfortunately Tamsin Hinchley, my partner from Beijing and London, suffered a serious ankle injury over the summer and will not be on the FIVB Tour this year because of the long recovery time needed. Hopefully we shall see her back on the sand in front of home fans at the end of the year.
“In Australia the long-term development of our sport rests heavily on our ability to successfully implement some new and exciting grass roots programs. This is where our 2020 stars will come from.
“One of the challenges in our sport is that we play for ourselves and our country. There is nothing supporting us along the way; we play on a tour, not for a club. Our beach volleyballers come to our sport usually after they finish or towards the end of their school therefore at the ages of 16 or 17 and I believe this is far too late. We want them to experience the sport at a much younger age. I am working on a new program to take beach volleyball to our magnificent beaches. The new surf volley program will allow kids from the age of seven to learn to play beach volleyball and be part of a club atmosphere, just like volleyball. Currently there are 60,000 young surf lifesavers running around on our beaches. I only need to find two boys and two girls for 2020.
Natalie Cook became the first Australian women to participate in five successive Olympic Games and is the only women to play in all five Olympic beach volleyball events. After making her debut on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour in 1993, Cook went on to win a bronze medal at the 1996 Olympics and 2000 Olympic gold with Kerri Pottharst, before finishing fourth in Athens, fifth in Beijing and retiring after a 19th-place finish at the London Olympics. She is now running her own company Sandstorm which runs Oz Volley and Surf Volley programs, whilst ensuring new beach volleyball courts are being built off the beach to support the demand and the growth of beach volleyball.
Other FIVB Blogs
Hugh McCutcheon - Feeling good about US women’s coach
Martin Laciga - It's time to pass the ball to younger players
Tom Hoff - This is volleyball, and anything can happen
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