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Impressive start for Youth Olympics

Anastasija Kravcenoka (center) hits at the net against ekaterina Lassyuta (left) of Kazakhstan as Latvian partner Tina Graudina follows the action at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games at the Nanjing Sports Park Complex Sunday.

Nanjing, China, August 17, 2014 - The first day of women’s Beach Volleyball competition at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games featured impressive debuts for several countries here Sunday at the venue in the Nanjing Sports Park Complex.

With the women’s matches being played at the Beach Volleyball venue where 3,300 tons of sand was used to construct the four competition and two warm up courts, 18 countries posted wins during the first day of pool play action as only one of the matches was extended to three sets where Tzu-Yi Pan and Yu-Rong Song of Chinese Taipei rallied to defeat Lia Fortunati and Maria Rotti of Uruguay, 2-1 (13-21, 21-18 and 15-12) in 45 minutes.

“It was exciting to get our first match completed, said 16-year old Tina Graudina after she and Latvian partner Anastasija Kravcenoka posted a 2-0 (21-12 and 21-8) win over Yekaterina Lassyuta and Anna Pimenova of Kazakhstan in 24 minutes.  “Despite the damp conditions, the sand was great.  It’s the best sand I have ever played on.  It was also nice to play early in the morning as the weather conditions were ideal.”

Graudina, who has tied to the United States since her father is from Milwaukee, Wis., and Kravcenoka will play their second of five Pool A matches Monday against Briggitte Batioja and Mishelle Molina of Ecuador.  The South Americans dropped their opening match Sunday by losing 2-0 (21-14 and 21-14) in 28 minutes to Megan McNamara and Nicole McNamara of Canada.

The McNamara twins enter the Youth Olympics as one of the top teams after the pair placed third earlier this month at the FIVB under-19 World Championships in Porto, Portugal.  Graudina also earned a bronze medal this season in FIVB competition as she and Linda Gramberga reached the under-17 world championship podium last month in Acapulco, Mexico.

When asked if she was playing with the 17-year old Kravcenoka, Graudina said “no.  We qualified for the Youth Olympics together this year and also played in a CEV under-18 championship last season in Belarus where we placed ninth.  We have experience together and today’s match will help prepare for other tough matches in our pool.”

After posting a pair of European Youth Continental Cup match wins in July 2013 in Zagreb, Croatia, Graudina and Kravcenoka fell short in qualifying initially for Nanjing in the CEV finale this past May in Antalya, Turkey.  However, the Latvians “level of play” was sufficient to receive one of the five "universality places" in the 36-team field along with women’s pairs from Austria, host China, Switzerland, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Coached by 2009 European Beach Volleyball champion Inese Jursone, Graudina and Kravcenoka’s pool is one of the tougher ones as the Latvians will played the McNamaras on Tuesday and Irene Enzo and Michela Lantignotti of Italy Thursday before concluding group competition Friday against Stephanie Palmhert and Kim Seebach of Namibia.  Graudina and Kravcenoka lost to the Italians in the CEV Continental Cup finale in Turkey this past May.

We have a tough pool with the Canadians placing well at the U19 world championships and the Italians defeating us in two close sets in Turkey,”Graudina added.  “We feel fortunate to receive a berth in the Games ("universality places”) and we hope we can play well enough to reach the final rounds.  But first, we must concentrate on our next opponent and that is Ecuador.”

The five days of pool play competition is spread over a six-day period with the young Olympians getting a rest day Wednesday.  After the completion of the preliminary rounds for men and women participants Friday, the top four teams from each group advance to the single-elimination bracket rounds starting next Sunday.

The women’s semi-final and medal matches will be played August 26 followed by the men’s “final four” matches August 27 at the 2,000-seat Beach Volleyball venue at the Nanjing Sports Park Complex.

The first two women’s matches Sunday were forfeits due to the status of teams from Nigeria and Sierra Leone.  “According to the recent IOC communications, it is confirmed that both the men and women teams from Nigeria and Sierra Leone will not play any matches in the Beach Volleyball Tournaments of the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games due to ‘force majeure’,” said Marco “Tullio Teixeira, the Event Delegate for the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB).  “All their matches will be treated as forfeits according to FIVB Specific Competition Regulation.”

With the forfeits, teams from Switzerland (Pool B, Dunja Gerson/Esther Rohrer) and Turkey (Pool C, Esra Cetin/Selin Yurtsever) were “awarded two points for the win and a score of 2-0 (0-0 and 0-0).

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