Looking back: One year since London 2012
Beach volleyball made headline news around the world as the top 10 of the best Olympic moments on the IOC website for all the right reasons: the quality of the players, the drama and surprise of the competition and the festive ambiance at the Horse Guards Parade. Not surprisingly nearly all the competitions were sold out and TV coverage of the beach volleyball matches had high ratings all through the Games.
USA’s Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh took their third straight Olympic gold victory against compatriots Jen Kessy and April Ross showing us exactly why they are the undisputed queens of beach volleyball. It was an all-American final, which saw world champions and number 1 seeds Brazilians Larissa França and Juliana Felisberta having to settle for bronze after their defeat by Kessy/Ross.
Brazil’s top-seeded men’s pair, Emmanuel Rego and Alison Cerutti also failed to win gold after being beaten in the final by Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann. Brink/Reckermann became the first German pair to win gold in any volleyball event and the first Europeans of either gender to win beach volleyball gold. Bronze medallist Martins Plavins and Janis Smedins won Latvia’s first medal at the 2012 Olympics.
As the dust begins to settle, the question that is no doubt on everyone’s mind is, can the Games in Rio in 2016 top the action in London?
Since the beach volleyball spectacle, the competitions on the sands have only increased, even with the changes in the women’s competition, including Misty May-Treanor’s and Larissa França’s retirement.
“Usually after the Olympics, it seems like there are a lot of new teams and maybe they’re not as good, but this time after the Olympics I feel like the competition level is still going up,” April Ross said at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour 2013 Corrientes Grand Slam. “Everyone is still getting better, so it’s even tougher this year than it was last year.”
Ross, who lost against Treanor-Walsh for gold in 2012, is teaming up with Walsh full time toward the end of this year, with the intention of going through to the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games together.
So far this season, however, the Brazilians are ruling the beach for both the men and women, with Pedro/Bruno and Ricardo/Álvaro Filho ranking the highest among the men, and Talita/Lima and Lili/Seixas securing the top two spots among the women.
A total of 142 countries from around the world took part in the qualification process for the Olympic Games in 2012, with the debut of the Continental Cup and the World Cup Olympic Qualification Tournament. Alongside Rigobert/Li Yuk from Mauritius, Argentina were also represented in the women’s tournament for the first time in the shape of Maria Virginia Zonta and Ana Gallay thanks to the Continental Cup.
On the men’s side Igor Hernandez and Jesus Villafane also made history by becoming the first Venezuelan team to qualify for an Olympic Games. Steven Grotowski and John Garcia-Thompson were Britain’s first men’s team to contest the event since its debut at the 1996 Atlanta games.
If the surprising gold and bronze medal success of Germany’s Brink/Reckermann and Latvia’s Plavins/Smedins is anything to go by, Rio 2016 will no doubt provide a platform for other beach volleyball pairs to show their mettle.
On the court, Russia showed its dominance in 2012 by defeating No. 1 ranked Brazil at the London Olympics. To repeat their Olympic success, the team again defeated Brazil at the 2013 FIVB World League in straight sets, claiming their third World League title – their second in three years.
While the result proved Russian’s dominance in men’s volleyball, their success didn’t solely come on the heals of their top players. Rather, Russia proved its success as a team, as only four members - Nikolay Apalikov, Sergey Grankin, Dmitry Muserskiy and Maxim Mikaylov - of the 2012 Olympic team were featured in Mar del Plata. Russia has now beaten Brazil three times in succession for only the second time ever, giving them strong hopes to build on their successes in 2016.
For the women, Brazil will try to repeat their Olympic success at the upcoming FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix, which begins in August.
The Brazilian women’s team is now in state of transition and coach Zé Roberto will no doubt be looking to give Sheila, Jacqueline and Fabiana a bit of a rest after five years of rigorous training. The trend after an Olympic cycle is to change only parts of the team, but Zé Roberto is also investing in a new group of young players for this season’s Grand Prix with an eye on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
London 2012 set out to “Inspire a Generation” and it won many plaudits from the critics for creating a fun, festive atmosphere at the beach volleyball matches. If Britain, a country without a beach volleyball tradition could draw such spectacular crowds, the future bodes well for volleyball hungry Brazil.
While expectations for the 2016 Olympics run high, teams still have plenty of time to prepare. In the coming years, watch for new teams to emerge and records to be beaten, as the best of beach volleyball and volleyball competitions are only to come.