Arriba España, Herrera and Gavira win European gold in Klagenfurt
Pablo Herrera – a silver medallist from the 2004 Olympics in Athens – had indeed already won European gold in 2005 together with former partner Raul Mesa and Klagenfurt was the place where he completed his “resurrection” after being plagued by many injuries. “I simply have no words to explain the way it feels; it did take a very long time to come back to the top but I am happy that this happened here in Klagenfurt” Herrera said. “I am also overwhelmed with joy” added partner Gavira, with whom Herrera had shared a bronze medal four years ago in Sochi. “This is the best tournament in the world and to become European champions here is simply amazing”.
Right before the start of the gold medal match, Austria’s organizers had the opportunity to celebrate once more their golden girls, Doris and Stefanie Schwaiger, who on Saturday had won the first women’s European title for their country. Clemens Doppler and Alex Horst also bid farewell to their many fans who paid tribute to their hero and double European champion whose campaign was “ruined” by a knee injury that forced him to pull out of the competition during pool play. The tone for the last act was set with another aerobatics show by Austrian pilot Hannes Arch, who is most known for his performances in the Red Bull Air Race World Series.
Though the seventh-seeded pair of the tournament, Herrera and Gavira had already showed last week in Long Beach they were peaking right by the time it counted the most finishing second at the FIVB Grand Slam there in California, so this European crown does not come as a surprise. Latvia’s Samoilovs and Smedins – the most consistent European pair this year with one gold and two silver medals from the World Tour – could nevertheless be happy with silver, the best result for their “small” country in history after Smedins and former partner Martins Plavins had won bronze three years ago in Berlin. They initially set the pace of the game (7:5) but Herrera/Gavira flipped the charts around (10:7) with a terrific 5:0 run and after that they were able to keep control of the operations cashing their second set ball (21-19). The Spaniards were playing clever to stand the physical supremacy of their opponents and that trend continued also in the second set; Latvia’s heroes started out strong (7:4) but Herrera/Gavira did not wait too long to claw back and draw level at 7. The game continued with the teams successfully completing their respective side-outs before the Spaniards first claimed a two-point break (19:17) that set the tone for the party that was about to follow in a couple of minutes (21-17). This is Spain’s fifth European Championship medal to be added to the gold that Herrera won in 2005 together with Mesa, the silver claimed by Javier Bosma and Santiago Aguilera in 1994 and by Bosma/Fabio Diez in 1999, while Herrera and Gavira had seized bronze in Sochi four years ago.
With a very short time to recover from their semi-final game with Herrera/Gavira, the question going around before the start of the bronze medal match was if Italy’s Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai still had some energy left to play once more their best with temperatures having risen up to 39° in Klagenfurt. Poland’s Grzegorz Fijalek and Mariusz Prudel were able to regroup after losing to Samoilovs/Smedins in the semis and to finish it off in straight sets (22-20, 21-16) to claim the first medal for their country in the 20-year long history of the CEV Beach Volleyball European Championship.
They got off to a flying start setting the pace of the game (5:1) as the Italians were evidently struggling to find their rhythm and looked still fatigued from their semi-final match. Their lead reached a maximum 7 points (13:6) before Lupo and Nicolai clawed back to contribute an exciting final rush of the set. They slowly but surely cut the deficit and eventually drew level by the time it counted the most, at 20 all, as they survived a first set-ball for their opponents with a terrific block killed by Nicolai. After missing out on two consecutive opportunities to go for the 1:0, Prudel and Fijalek closed it out at 22-20 with a block by Prudel. After an extremely disappointing home campaign at the FIVB World Championships in Stare Jablonki one month ago, time had finally come for what would be their first medal at a major Championship; Fijalek and Prudel played superb Beach Volleyball also in the second set though the audience – most probably wanting a tie-break – was mostly cheering on their opponents. Lupo/Nicolai got to the front in the early phases of the second set (5:4) but that would be the last time since Fijalek/Prudel fired back and did not look back cruising straight to the 21-16 that sealed the final 2:0.
“It is something special to play here in Klagenfurt and I would like to thank the fans for the great ambiance they have created right from the start of the competition. Without their help it would be impossible to play under these weather conditions” Prudel said while addressing the 8,000 fans who had joined the very last act of the Championship.
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