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"Lion King" characters spotted on Copacabana

Simba (Aleksandrs Samoilovs), Mufasa (Genadijs Samoilovs) and Joka (Janis Smedins) of Latvia on Copacabana Wednesday preparing for next week's US$800,000 Rio Grand Slam.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 2, 2016 - There they were, three characters from Lion King on Avenue Atlantica here Wednesday as the world’s beach volleyball players ascend on Copacabana this week in preparation for next week’s $800,000 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Rio Grand Slam.

Everyone on the FIVB World Tour knows that Simba, from the Lion King hit movie and Broadway play, is Aleksandrs Samoilovs, the 30-year Latvian who holds the distinction of winning the last two FIVB-sanctioned events on Copacabana with Martins Plavins and current partner Janis Smedins.

Nicknamed by the players on the FIVB World Tour as the Lion King due to his mane-like full-head of hair, Samoilovs is like Simba in so many ways. He has taken a beach volleyball journey that has led him to two Olympic Games and 12 international and continental gold medals. From his first international event in 2003 to becoming a regular on the FIVB World Tour in 2006 to now, Simba (Samoilovs) is one of the most recognizable beach volleyball players in the world.

Smedins, Simba’s (Samoilovs’) partner is like Joka, the giant python in the Disney's The Lion King franchise, and a member of the “Lion Guard. Like Joka, Smedins is “extremely intelligent and is able to formulate complicated plans in a short amount of time” when playing with ever-playful Simba (Samoilovs).

Walking the streets of Copacabana Wednesday with Simba (Samoilovs) and Joka (Smedins) was Mufasa (Samoilovs’ father Genadijs). “It is great to be here and we had a good practice today after arriving Tuesday evening,” said Simba (Samoilovs).

Possible three-peat
When asked about a possible three-peat on Copacabana, Simba (Samoilovs) was caught off guard for a moment. Joka (Smedins) was quick to remind his partner about their winning the gold medal at last September’s Rio 2016 Olympic “test” event. Simba (Samoilovs) then noted that he captured gold at the 2005 FIVB U21 World Championship gold with Plavins in the previous international event staged on Copacabana.

“Yes, a three-peat would be great,” said Simba (Samoilovs), “but it will be far more difficult this year since next week’s event is a grand slam with a bigger and stronger field. Our goal next week is to play well in our first international event this season and hope for the best possible result.”

Last September’s Rio Open was the first FIVB-sanctioned event held on Copacabana since the 2005 youth world championship where Simba (Samoilovs) teamed with Plavins to top the podium by defeating Jackson Henriquez and Jesus Villafane of Venezuela in the finals.  Jackson and Fane are still competing together and will be participating next week in the Rio Grand Slam.

The Rio Grand Slam has attracted 127 men’s and women’s entries from 36 countries as the FIVB World Tour stop will feature a winner’s purse of $60,000 per gender along with 800 Olympic qualifying points that the gold medal teams. The event also serves as a prelude to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games to be staged on the same site this coming August.

The scheduled country quota action begins Monday across the street from the Windsor Atlantic Hotel on Avenue Atlantica. Qualifying action will be held Tuesday followed by Main Draw play the next five days in the sixth men’s and fourth women’s stop on the 2015-2016 FIVB World Tour. The 32-team Main Draws feature both pool and elimination bracket play with the medal matches to be contested March 13.

Simba (Samoilovs) and Joka (Smedins) will be competing together in their 36th FIVB World Tour event. The international circuit’s top team for the 2013 and 2014 season, Simba (Samoilovs) and Joka (Smedins) have netted six FIVB World Tour gold medals with 13 podium placements and 15 “final four” finishes. The Latvians also captured the 2015 European Championships in Austria.

Plavins, who teamed with Joka (Smedins) to capture the bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games, will compete in the Rio Grand Slam with Haralds Regza as the pair is trying to attain Olympic-qualifying status via the FIVB World Tour. On the provisional list, Simba (Samoilovs) and Joka (Smedins) are ranked third among international teams (4,660 points). Plavins and Regza are No. 25 (2,350 points) with only the top 15 pairs on the list gaining Olympic berths via the FIVB World Tour.

Olympic qualification
To qualify for the Olympics, a team must compete together in at least 12 FIVB World Tour events and/or recognized Continental championships from January 2015 through June 13, 2016. A team’s best 12 finishes will be used to determine a tandem’s ranking. A maximum of two teams per country will be allowed to compete in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Brazil has already qualified two teams in each gender’s competition due to two pairs winning the 2015 FIVB World Championships last July in The Netherlands (Alison Cerutti/Bruno Oscar Schmidt and Agatha Bednarczuk/Barbara Seixas). Due to being the host of the Rio Summer Games, Brazil was guaranteed two teams in the 24-team men’s and women’s fields (Evandro Goncalves/Pedro Solberg and Talita Antunes/Larissa Franca).

The five pairs for each gender’s Olympic competition will qualify via Continental Cup action where each FIVB confederation is guaranteed a berth in the Rio 2016 Summer Games. The last qualifying event will be July 6-10 when Russia hosts the FIVB World Continental Cup Olympic Qualification Tournament in Sochi.


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