Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, July 16, 2019 - After a highly-competitive three-week stretch in Europe for the 2019 FIVB World Championships in Germany and a Beach Major Series conclave in Switzerland, the international beach volleyball circuit splits into two sites this week in Portugal and Canada.
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The Canadian stop is a return home for Rio 2016 Olympian Ben Saxton and 33 other players from the host country that have entered the US$150,000 double gender event that will begin here Wednesday with men's and women's qualifying on the grounds of Northlands Park.
The inaugural Edmonton Open will also be one of the featured events at the 2019 K-Days (formerly known as the Klondike Days), an annual 10-day exhibition held with over 700,000 visitors each year. The event was started in 1879.
The Edmonton Open, the first of two 2019 FIVB World Tour events in North America this season, concludes Sunday with the medal matches as the winning teams split the $10,000 first-place prizes while earning 600 Olympic qualifying points for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games. Mexico hosts the second World Tour stop November 13-17 for the second annual Chetumal Open.
"It’s been awhile since there was (a tournament) in Canada that has points," said the 30-year year Saxton, who grew up and resides in Calgary, which is located 186 miles (300 km) south of Edmonton. "The World Tour Finals were in Toronto a few years ago (2016), but it was for only the top-ranked FIVB players. It’s nice to have one back in Canada where we can go play, especially in Alberta, my home province. I’m excited to go back and play in front of my family."
The last FIVB points event played in Canada was 2011 in Quebec. Other Canadian World Tour events have been played in Toronto (1998-200) and Montreal (2002, 2005-2007). Canada also hosted the FIVB under-21 World Championships in 2011 and 2012 in Halifax and the Pan American Games in 1999 at Winnipeg and 2015 in Toronto.
Saxton, who has played in three previous FIVB events in his home country highlighted by a fourth-place finish with Chaim Schalk in 2016 Toronto, said "more Canadians players competing is always a good thing, there’s more potential for someone to have a breakout tournament and do well. Obviously, we’re hoping it’s us."
Chaim Schalk (left) and Ben Saxton at the 2016 FIVB World Tour Finals in Toronto
Although official seedings will not be released until Wednesday evening after morning and afternoon qualifier at Northlands Park, Saxton and current partner Grant O'Gorman are expected to be the No. 1-seeded men's team in the money rounds starting Thursday.
The Edmonton Open will be Saxton and O'Gorman's 23rd World Tour event together as the pair captured a gold medal at their first World Tour appearance in November 2017 in Australia along with three fifths last season in The Netherlands, Poland and Portugal. At the last two FIVB events, Saxton and O'Gorman posted 17th at the world championships and the Gstaad Major.
Grant O'Gorman (left) and Ben Saxton with their Sydney gold medals
When asked about the added pressure at playing before the home country fans, the 25-year O'Gorman said "I don’t think so. There’s always pressure to do our best, but I don’t think there’s any more pressure."
O'Gorman, who has been playing in FIVB events since 2010 and started playing full-time on the World Tour in 2014, echoed his partner's comment about have "more Canadians playing. My first FIVB tournament was 2011 in Quebec. I never would have entered an FIVB event unless I was that close and now, I’m in the main draw so I think it gives us a pathway for younger athletes to make it to the bigger tournaments."
While Saxton and Schalk earned a spot in the Rio Olympic Games via the FIVB World Tour pathway in 2016, O'Gorman teamed with Sam Pedlow to help Canada earn a second spot in the Copacabana event via the FIVB Continental Cup playoffs. O'Gorman and Pedlow joined forces with Josh Binstock and Sam Schachter to win the second Canadian Rio berth at the last chance qualifier in June 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
Once the second Rio spot was secured for the Canadian men, Volleyball Canada had a playoff in North Bay, Ontario, where Binstock and Schachter won the three-set playoff with O'Gorman and Pedlow. Binstock also won the second spot for Canada for the London 2012 with Martin Reader as the pair defeated Saxton and Christian Redmann for the berth.
Saxton and O'Gorman are currently ranked 24th on the FIVB World Tour Ranking list and 21st on the provisional list for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The Canadians have compiled 3,240 points for nine Olympic qualifying events since September 2018.
With the maximum of two teams per country per gender, 15 pairs per gender advance to the Tokyo Summer Games from the FIVB World Tour's Olympic qualifying list. A team's best 12 FIVB World Tour or continental finishes together are used in determining the ranking.
With Japan being awarded one 2020 berth per gender as the host country, the other eight berths per gender for Tokyo are determined with five Continental Cup playoff winners (one each from the five FIVB confederations), the gold medal winning countries at the 2019 FIVB World Championships and the two countries with teams advancing to the finals of September's qualifier in China.
Canada secured the first Tokyo berth when Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan captured the gold medal two weeks ago in the 2019 FIVB World Championships in Hamburg, Germany. The Canadian pair joins Saxton and O'Gorman as the featured host country teams this week in the Edmonton, Open.
World Championship trophy for Melissa Humana-Paredes (left) and Sarah Pavan (center) of Canada from FIVB President Dr. Ary Graça