Rome, Italy, August 31, 2019 - When the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Finals officially begin here Wednesday with the qualifying rounds for the event in a city founded 28 centuries ago amidst seven hills on the banks of the Tiber River, several questions will be answered at the final event on the 2018-2019 calendar.
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With the US$600,000 tournament being one of the top four competitions on the 2018-2019 international calendar that has featured 49 men’s and 47 women’s events at 53 sites in 35 countries on five continents, the fifth edition of the FIVB World Tour Finals continues Thursday with the opening main draw pool play rounds.
Most of the questions will begin to be answered Friday when the elimination rounds start as the seven-decade old Foro Italico has been transformed into the world’s largest beach volleyball facility where over 2,300 tons of sand was trucked into the Italian capital from a cave-area approximately 100 km (60 miles) south of Rome.
The five-day, 160-match men’s and women’s schedule ends Sunday evening under the lights with the podium-placement contests starting at approximately 6 p.m. (local time). The winning of the men’s and women’s teams will claim the $40,000 first-place prizes along with being award 1,200 points each for qualifying towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Question No. 1 - Will Mol and Sørum keep rolling? - Anders Mol and Christian Sørum won the last three FIVB World Tour events they entered together - the Gstaad and Vienna Majors and the Olympic dress rehearsal in Tokyo - and are undefeated as a team for their last 27 matches. The Norwegians are also the reigning World Tour Finals champions.
Prior to their visit to Rome, the Vikings had a week to relax as they competed this past weekend with younger partners at an FIVB World Tour event on home sand in Oslo. Mol and Sorum arrive in the Italian capital with fresh legs and minds for their first-ever appearance on the Foro Italico sand.
By winning 10 FIVB World Tour events since July 2018 with seven gold medals this season, there is no reason for a slow down with the Norwegians.
Christian Sorum (left) and Anders Mol at a post-match interview
Question No. 2 - Will Italy win its first medal in Rome? - The FIVB World Tour has already held five men’s (2009-2013) and four women’s (2010-2014) events in Rome and none of the 27 teams who have been awarded medals at the Eternal City was an Italian one. Will this be the time when a home team finally breaks through and reaches the podium?
With seven male and five female tandems entered at the World Tour Finals, the host country certainly seems to be in position to do so. The nation’s best finish in Rome so far is the fourth-place of Greta Cicolari and Marta Menegatti in 2012 and the latter will be back with Vitkoria Orsi Toth this year. Among the men, the best bet would be on Rio 2016 silver medalists Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo, who had three fifth-place finishes already this season and would love to get their first medal in front of their home fans.
Rio Olympic silver medal winners Paolo Nicolai (left) and Daniele Lupo Of Italy.
Question No. 3 - Will Samoilovs and Smedins turn their season around for good? - The 2018-2019 season seemed poised to be a tough one for Latvians Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins, maybe even the worst of their seven-year partnership. After multiple 17th-place FIVB World Tour finishes, the Olympians had to play in the qualifier of the Vienna Major and didn’t advance from it.
The last two weeks, however, have been of absolute glory to the veteran Latvians as they topped the podiums in back-to-back FIVB World Tour events in Moscow and their home sand of Jurmala. They’ll face a tougher competition at the Foro Italico as Samoilovs and Smedins start play in the qualifier Wednesday. But you can bet that another great finish at the World Tour Finals would turn their season from terrible to terrific.
Aleksandrs Samoilovs (left) and Janis Smedins answer questions after winning gold in Jurmala
Question No. 4 - Will Agatha and Duda be the third back-to-back champions? - Since the FIVB World Tour Finals started, in 2015, two teams managed to stand at the top of the podium in consecutive seasons – Brazil’s Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt, who won it in 2015 and 2016, and Germany’s Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst, who took gold in 2016 and 2017.
This season, Brazilians Agatha Bednarczuk and Eduarda “Duda” Lisboa will try to do the same after they won last year’s edition in Hamburg. The South Americans have won golds in Ostrava and Tokyo in 2018-2019 and will try to make it three in a season for the first time since they joined forces in 2017.
Eduarda “Duda” Lisboa (left) and Agatha Bednarczuk of Brazil
Question No. 5 - Will Russians or Canadians keep the tradition? - The FIVB World Tour Finals were first played in 2015 and since then there were two times in which they were held in the same season of the World Championships. In both occasions, one team managed to win both tournaments - Brazil’s Alison Cerutti/Bruno Schmidt in 2015 and Germany’s Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst in 2017.
This year, Russians Oleg Stoyanovskiy and Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, who both won the world titles in Hamburg back in July, will try to repeat it. Which of them will succeed on the task?
Sarah Pavan (left) and Melissa Humana-Paredes answer questions and sign autographs at the 2018 FIVB World Tour Finals in Germany
Question No. 6 - Will Dalhausser get his Rome three-peat? - From the 226 athletes entered to the World Tour Finals, just one has won multiple titles in Roma. It is USA’s Phil Dalhausser, who topped the podium at the Eternal City in 2010 with Todd Rogers and in 2013 with Sean Rosenthal.
Rosenthal, who was also a champion in the Italian capital in 2012 with Jake Gibb, is the only other player with two gold medals in Rome and since he’s not entered at the World Tour Finals, the ‘Thin Beast’ has a clear path to become the first to win three times. Will he do it with Nick Lucena?
Questions for American Phil Dalhausser (center) and Kerri Walsh Jennings
Depending on the results here Tuesday afternoon from the country quota playoff rounds at the Foro Italico, two more questions will unfold featuring prominent women’s players from Brazil and the United States.
The Brazilian playoff would create the question - Can 2013 Rome FIVB World Tour women’s gold medal winners Talita Antunes and Taiana Lima get the opportunity to defend their title? Talita and Taiana will meet compatriots Fernanda Alves and Barbara Seixas Tuesday with the winner advancing to Wednesday’s qualifier and the losers becoming tourists.
The American country quota match generates the question - Can Kerri Walsh Jennings enhance her bid for a fifth Olympic bid with Brooke Sweat? Walsh Jennings and Sweat are currently the second-ranked American team on the Olympic provisional ranking list with 6,780 points ahead of Kelly Claes/Sarah Sponcil (6,480) and Kelley Larsen/Emily Stockman (6,140)
Both Claes/Sponcil and Larsen/Stockman will start playing Thursday in the main draw and have secured points to improve their Olympic ranking. To improve their Olympic ranking, the three-time Olympic and world champion Walsh Jennings and Sweat must qualify for the main draw and place at least ninth in the competition. But first, Walsh Jennings and Sweat must defeat American rivals Emily Day and Betsi Flint Tuesday to secure a spot in Wednesday’s qualifier.