With retirement “on hold”, Ontiveros looks forward to the FIVB Puerto Vallarta Open and Olympic Qualifying
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, May 7, 2014 - Qualifying for the London 2012 Olympics delayed any thoughts of “retirement” from beach volleyball for Lombardo Ontiveros as the “defender” for Mexico’s top men’s team continues to compete on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour seeking a berth in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro with Juan Virgen.
As Mexico’s featured men’s pair in this week’s FIVB Puerto Vallarta Open on the Playa Camarones, Ontiveros is “excited for Mexico to host some of the world’s best beach volleyball players this week. It also makes it special when you compete internationally in your own country before your family, friends and fans.”
The Puerto Vallarta Open opened Tuesday with men’s qualifying play to set the field for the 32-team Main Draw where the “money” rounds begin Wednesday on the Playa Camarones. Women’s qualifying will be held Wednesday followed by the start of Main Draw play Thursday. The medal matches will be held this weekend starting with the men’s finales Saturday and the women’s “final four” matches Sunday.
“I was considering retirement to continue my career as a teacher,” said the 30-year old Ontiveros, “but I decided to return to help my country’s bid for a 2012 Olympic berth via the Continental Cup competition with my younger brother Ulises. Although Mexico just missed qualifying for London, it was still exciting to represent my country. All the Mexican teams played well during the Olympic process, but at the end of the road, we were eliminated by teams from countries that had more experience on the FIVB tour.”
Mexico advanced to the finals of the NORCECA Continental Cup in both men and women, but both Mexican genders were denied the confederation’s berth for London by the Canadian men and women’s pairs in June 2012 matches played in Mazatlán, Mexico.
The runner-up finishes in the NORCECA Continental Cup event earned the Mexico men and women one more opportunity to advance to London at the 2012 World Cup Olympic Qualification Tournament in Moscow. The Mexican men advanced from pool play to the final round before being eliminated by Austria while the women placed third among five countries in their pool with only the top two finishers in the group advancing to the final rounds.
The Puerto Vallarta Open will be the third international competition this season for Ontiveros and Virgen, who placed ninth and 33rd in their first two FIVB events in China as the Mexicans split six total matches at the events in Fuzhou and Shanghai. Highlighting Ontiveros and Virgen’s effort in China was a 21-19, 19-21 and 15-9 upset of third-seeded Spanish Olympians Adrian Gavira and Pablo Herrera in Fuzhou.
This week’s tournament will also be Ontiveros and Virgen’s eighth FIVB event together as the pair placed 17th at the 2013 FIVB World Championships where the Mexicans won two of four matches in Stare Jablonki, Poland. Ontiveros and Virgen were also the dominate team on the 2013 NORCECA circuit by winning a record six of nine tournaments while placing second, fourth and sixth in the other events.
“Since Mexico is hosting this week’s event, there is more of an incentive to play hard to represent our country against quality competition,” said Ontiveros, who has won nine NORCECA events as compared to Virgen’s record 22 confederation gold medals (14 with Aldo Miramontes since 2008). “The goal this weekend is to show improvement in our overall game. The hot and humid conditions will be a factor for everyone. The team that is in the best shape will have an edge. I hope we are that team.”
Ontiveros, who first played in a FIVB event in 2002 at the U21 World Championships with Erik Rojo in Catania, Italy, and Virgen are looking forward to contesting for a spot in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. “It will be a long and tough road to reach Rio,” said Ontiveros. “We have a chance, but it will not be easy. As a team, Juan and I had a great season last year within our confederation. That’s a start, but to get to the Olympics, we also need to be competitive on the FIVB tour.”
The 27-year old Virgen, who has been competing internationally since 2003 when he and Michel Mokondoko placed fourth in the FIVB’s U18 World Championships in Pattaya, Thailand, is no stranger in playing events in Puerto Vallarta where the Playa Camarones has hosted three NORCECA stops and the 2011 Pan American Games.”
If past performances are any indication, Virgen should have success with Ontiveros on the Playa Camarones courts this weekend. Competing with Aldo Miramontes, Virgen and his partner posted a fourth (2009), second (2010) and first (2011) in the three NORCECA events in Puerto Vallarta.
Virgen and Miramontes were fourth in the 2011 Pan American games on the Playa Camarones in October where the Mexicans won three of six matches and extended eventual gold medal winners Alison Cerutti and Emanuel Rego of Brazil to three sets (19-21, 22-20 and 15-6) in the semifinals.
Alison, who captured the silver medal the next July with Emanuel at the London 2012 Olympic Games, called the Playa Camarones semifinal contest “a great match and the Mexicans played really well. They caught us off guard in the second set and the fans in Puerto Vallarta really inspired the Mexicans. It was a great atmosphere and venue.”
While Ontiveros did not compete in the 2011 Pan American Games, he played with his younger brother (Ulises) twice in NORCECA stops in Puerto Vallarta where the pair placed ninth in 2009 and third in 2010. The 2010 Playa Camarones bronze medal effort was highlighted by a pair of upsets over a higher-seeded team from the United States.
Joining Ontiveros and Virgen in the men’s Main Draw for Mexico at the Puerto Vallarta Open will be the pairs of Ricardo Galindo/Miramontes and Juan Revuelta/Miguel Angel Cardenas Valdez. “While Lombardo and Virgen have established themselves as our top team, we need to develop a strong second team,” said coach Salvador Gonzalez, who has been coaching Mexican teams on the beach since 1995. “We’ll learn a lot about our prospects for the next Olympic qualifying period this week.”
With 12 more tournaments on the 2014 NORCECA schedule, Gonzalez is looking forward to improving his country’s prospects for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. “The next six months are important for us. Our goal is to have two quality teams in both the men’s and women’s competition to start the Olympic qualifying process next year. We have the potential to reach Rio, but it is a long road with a lot of challenges. I hope this weekend will provide us with a good start in developing competitive teams for the future.”
Along with Ontiveros and Virgen, Gonzalez “is still heart-broken about losing to the Canadians in the 2012 NORCECA Continental Cup finale in Mazatlán. Canada won three of four matches against Mexico to earn a London 2012 Olympic Games berth as Virgen was playing with Miramontes and the Ontiveros brothers formed the second team.”
Needing a win to force a fifth and deciding match between the two countries for a men’s spot in London, Virgen and Miramontes dropped a 21-17, 11-21 and 15-13 meeting on June 22 in Mazatlán to Canadians Josh Binstock and Martin Reader.
“It was a heart-breaking defeat, especially after the Canadian women also defeated our country for a spot in London,” said Gonzalez. “We were so close, but yet so far. The goal now is to erase those 2012 memories and look to the future. Juan and Lombardo established themselves as one of the top NORCECA teams last year. Our goal is to build on their last year’s successes and get better with each tournament.”