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German Golden Girls Tops Memorable Day

Germany's Kira Walkenhorst (left) and Laura Ludwig secure gold medal at Saturday's European Championships in Klagenfurt, Austria.

Klagenfurt, Austria, August 1, 2015 - Saturday was a day to remember at the 23rd European Championships as Germany's Laura Ludwig captured her third continental gold medal, the Polish women reached the podium for the first-time in the event and a marriage proposal before 6,000 center court fans prior to the bronze medal match.

The day’s most emotional moment occurred prior to the women’s third-place match as second referee Jonas Personeni of Switzerland proposed to his long-time girlfriend, Nina Hobi, who was caught by surprise but did not lose her composure as she was due to perform as first referee of the bronze medal match on the Lake Wolthesse center court, the place where she had first met her future husband exactly eight years ago.

Ludwig joined an elite club of triple European champions as she and Kira Walkenhorst posted a 2-0 (21-18, 21-18) win in 37-minutes over Evgenia Ukolova and Ekaterina Birlova of Russia to capture the women's gold medal.  The Germans dropped only one set in winning seven-straight Klagenfurt matches to improve their personal winning streak to 12.

Prior to the European Championships, Ludwig and Walkenhorst won their last five matches in Japan to capture the gold medal at the Yokohama Grand Slam for their second FIVB World Tour title together.  The Japanese title was the second in Asia as the German's captured the Chinese Grand Slam gold medal in 2014 at Shanghai.

“It feels almost unreal to win two tournaments within seven days,” Walkenhorst, who missed most of the 2014 season due to injuries.  “To win our second tournament of the season here in Klagenfurt is just terrific and on top of this, it is a European Championships," said Ludwig.

Italy’s Laura Bruschini and Annamaria Solazzi teamed to become the first three-time women's European champions by netting the 1997, 1999 and 2000 crowns.  Ludwig captured her first two continental titles on home sand in 2008 (Hamburg) and 2010 (Berlin) with her Olympic partner Sara Goller Niedrig.  The Laciga brothers (Martin and Paul) won three-straight men's titles (1998-2000) as did Dutchmen Reinder Nummerdor and Richard Schuil (2008-2010).

As the most decorated man or woman player in European Championships, the 2015 event was Ludwig's 11th continental final as she has captured eight medals with two silvers and three bronzes to her credit along with nine "final four" appearances.  She has combined with Goller Niedrig (36-8, five medals) and Walkenhorst (19-3, three medals) to post a 55-11 match mark in the 11 continental finals.

Poland's "historic day" was highlighted by Kinga Kolosinska and Monika Brzostek's 2-0 (21-17, 22-20) bronze medal win in 40 minutes over Natalia Dubovcova and Dominika Nestarcova of the Slovak Republic.  Earlier in the day, the Polish ladies dropped a 2-0 (21-17, 21-13) decision in 33 minutes to Birlova and Ukolova while the Slovakians were defeated 2-0 (21-18, 21-18) in 37 minutes to Ludwig and Walkenhorst.

“We are just speechless,” Kolosinska said after the match as Poland had been a major force in women's age-group competitions for a number of years already but not quite able to be as successful at the ‘senior’ level.

“We have been working very hard for three years and now we have very good coaches, something which makes the difference at this level,” Brzostek said. “We do hope that this medal will help us get more support and will provide more women’s teams from Poland with the opportunity to play also on the World Tour. You need to join the international circuit in order to improve and become competitive at the highest level."

Brzostek added "this is a great result and now we are hoping that the guys will take another medal for Poland also in the men’s competition.  That would be a perfect way to cap this great week here in Klagenfurt."

Unfortunately for Brzostek and Poland, the men dropped three-straight elimination matches to teams from The Netherlands to finish ninth and fifth in the competition.  Nummerdor and Christiaan Varenhorst scored a pair of three-set wins over Polish teams Saturday to advance to the semi-finals of the European Championships along with compatriots Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen.

Nummerdor and Varenhorst's first Polish victory Saturday was a 2-1 (15-21, 21-19, 17-15) "Sweet 16" win in 46 minutes over Michal Kadziola and Jakub Szalankiewicz.  The Dutch's second victory over a Poland pair was a 2-1 (21-18, 14-21, 15-10) "Elite 8" decision in 52 minutes over Grzegorz Fijalek and Mariusz Prudel.  Brouwer and Meeuwsen advanced to the “final four” with a 2-0 (21-19, 24-22) win in 42 minutes over Piotr Kantor and Bartosz Losiak of Poland.

In the other men’s quarter-final matches, Adrian Carambula and Alex Ranghieri of Italy ousted Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst of Austria 2-0 (21-17, 23-21) in 44 minutes while Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins of Latvia avenged a setback to Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira in the 2013 European finals by defeating the Spaniards 2-0 (21-18, 24-22) in 41 minutes.

Carambula and Ranghieri will meet Nummerdor and Varenhorst in the first semi-final as the Italians will be seeking their second win over the Dutchmen after winning a FIVB World Tour bronze medal match last month in Porec, Croatia.  Samoilovs and Smedins will also playing Brouwer and Meeuwsen for the second time this season at the Latvians posted a three-set semi-final win over the Dutch pair at last month’s Gstaad Major in Switzerland.

The 2015 European Championships also produced Olympic qualifying points for the Rio 2016 Summer Games.  Although the Olympic rankings are “only provisional”, Ludwig and Walkenhorst added 500 points (ranked second overall) to their total with the Russians 450 (ninth), the Poles 400 (tied for 11th) and the Slovakians 350 (14th).

As the host country for the 2016 Olympics, Brazil has already secured its two spots in both the men’s and women’s competition in Rio.  The second Brazilian berth in the 2016 Summer Games to be played on Copacabana beach was earned by winning the men’s and women’s world championships last month in The Netherlands.

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