There is plenty of high international calibre athletes and pairs to shine on the courts of the men’s CEV Continental Cup Final in the Hague with a real shot at the precious Olympic ticket to be earned by the winners of the tournament. The home team of the Netherlands, including Christiaan Varenhorst & Steven van de Velde, who were close to qualifying to Tokyo 2020 via the FIVB Ranking right through the end of that process, are certainly among the favourites, but who are some of the other top stars to watch during this week’s four-day showdown at Scheveningen:
National team of Austria
The Austrian national team also have a lot of depth to their roster, not only with four excellent players on the squad registered for the Continental Cup Final, but also a long list of equally excellent athletes, who could potentially sub in, should it become needed in the last minute. The legendary Alexander Horst & Clemens Doppler, mind you, who are still active at very high international level, have given way to Robin Seidl & Philipp Waller and Martin Ermacora & Moritz Pristauz on the national team roster for the upcoming tournament. Rio Olympian Seidl, now 31 years old, teamed up with Waller, now 25, in the summer of 2018. They have already picked up two gold medals on the World Tour as a duo and established themselves as the leading Austrian pair in the race to Tokyo 2020, finishing not far below the red line. The well-seasoned pair of 2019 EuroBeachVolley bronze medallists Ermacora & Pristauz, 27 and 25 years old, respectively, who also won their first World Tour medal, a three-star silver, shortly after the championship in Moscow may be a little behind Seidl & Waller in the Olympic Ranking, but also just above them as the top Austrian duo in the FIVB World Ranking. The two pairs currently hold positions 27 and 28. In his athletic career, Pristauz has also made three age-category European Championship podiums, between 2013 and 2017.
Aleksandrs Samoilovs & Janis Smedins (Latvia)
No doubt, Aleksandrs Samoilovs & Janis Smedins are the pair with the highest profile among all the competitors to take on the Continental Cup Final challenge. They are the highest-ranked team that ended up just below the cut-off line in the Olympic Ranking, a mere 20 points too low, but that is not the only reason why they are expected to be the main contenders for winning in the Hague. A pair of two highly experienced and highly successful players, proud as the inventors of the jump set and as the guys who turned two-touch action into a winning strategy on the sand, 36-year-old Samoilovs and 33-year-old Smedins are sure to leave their hearts on the sand of Scheveningen in the battle for a spot at the Olympics where they truly belong. Dubbed the ‘Lion King’, Samoilovs was part of the previous three editions of the Games; left-handed Smedins played at the last two and snatched a historic bronze for his country at London 2012, so it is hard to imagine an Olympics without the spectacular Latvian pair in the race.
Each of them had already medalled at a number of youth world or continental championships and major senior-level events, when they teamed up in 2013. Since that moment, the duo piled up an impressive collection of 13 gold, five silver and six bronze medals over their nine seasons on the FIVB World Tour together so far. Within that period, Samoilovs & Smedins became three-time Word Tour season champions, topping the rankings in 2013, 2014 and 2016, and turned into the most successful European duo in the history of the Tour. Between 2013 and 2018, only once they failed to reach the EuroBeachVolley final, earning four silver medals and peaking once, in 2015, when they triumphed on top of the podium in Klagenfurt as European champions.
“The Olympics is a goal for every athlete. It’s the most important tournament and happens once every… five years.”Aleksandrs Samoilovs (LAT)
Beach volleyball player
“We’ll go step by step and do our best. If you are too confident, there are a lot of good teams out there to put you in your place…”Janis Smedins (LAT)
Beach volleyball player
National team of Switzerland
While Switzerland’s leading pair Adrian Heidrich & Mirco Gerson were the next big contender for making it to Tokyo through the rankings right through the very last qualifying event and finished just below Samoilovs & Smedins in the race, the country’s second pair, Marco Krattiger & Florian Breer, are capable of playing at just as high a level as their Swiss teammates. Considered as a sum of all of its four players on the squad, Switzerland are probably the most noteworthy national team to play in the Hague. Since teaming up for the start of the 2018 season, 26-year-old blocker Heidrich and 28-year-old defender Gerson, a runner-up at the 2012 U21 World Championship, have already collected a full set of medals on the World Tour and established themselves among the top 20 in the world ranking. Not too far behind, 26-year-old Krattiger, a 2014 U22 European Championship silver medallist, and 22-year-old Breer, a U17 world champion in 2014, a U19 world vice champion in 2016 and a three-time medallist from age-category European Championships, have been partners for only a short period of time, since shortly before the pandemic, but have already made headlines by winning FIVB’s spectacular King of the Court 2020 event in the Netherlands and eventually moving up to number 40 in the current world ranking.