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Tuesday, 9 August 2016

#BetweenTheRings: Beach Volleyball Preview
The Copacabana beach will heat up during the XXXI Olympiad
One of the most famous beach locations in the world will act as the backdrop for one of the most energetic and exciting sports at the 2016 Summer Olympics.  Copacabana, located in the south of Rio de Janeiro, it a 4km stretch of, what many consider, the most beautiful beach in the world.  You can count on seeing half-naked people cheering, waving flags and a party atmosphere the entire time.....making sitting half-naked on the couch watching the Olympics feel that much more depressing and sad.  Oh well, we do what we can I suppose.

A little #RioRewind on the history of #beachvolleyball:

  • Beach volleyball made it's Olympic debut as a demonstration sport in 1992.  The sport became official in 1996.
  • The men's draw has always had 24 teams competing.  The women's draw started wtih 18 teams in 1996 but was increased to an equal 24 in 2000.
  • The competition format has also evolved over time.  At the inaugural games in 1996, a double elimination tournament format was used.  In 2000, a single elimination format, including a preliminary round, was adopted.  Finally, in 2004 the current pool play format was created.
  • The US has owned the beach winning 3 gold in men's play, winning in 1996, 2000 and 2008.  Brazil has had a team in the Olympic final each of the past 4 Olympiads but has only topped the podium once (2004).  The men's tournament has also produced some strong "upset" results for up and coming nations, including: Canada (Bronze, 1996), Portugal (4th, 1996 and 2000), Georgia (4th, 2008) and Latvia (Bronze, 2012).  Germany are the defending champions.
  • Brazil and USA are the only nations to have qualified 2 teams at every Summer Olympics beach volleyball competition in both men's and women's play.  Germany have qualified 1 men's and women's team for each Olympics.  Spain have qualified 1 men's team for each Olympics while Australia and Netherlands have qualified 1 women's team for each competition.
  • The US has also dominated women's play with 3 gold, including the past 3 Olympic championships on the women's draw (all by Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings).  Brazil won the inaugural women's tournament but have not found the top of the podium since, including missing the final the past 2 Olympics.  USA, Brazil and China have dominated the Final 4 the past two Olympics.
  • Overall, Brazil have won the most medals on the beach with 11 (2 G, 6 S, 3 B).  The US is next with 9 (6 G, 2 S, 1 B).  The next closest nation is Australia, Germany and China with 2 total medals. 7 nations have found the podium in 5 men's competition while only 4 nations have found the podium EVER in 5 women's competitions.
  • The Copacabana Stadium, also known as Beach Volleyball Arena, will host the action on the beach.  Unfortunately this will only be a temporary stadium seating 12,000 as it will be dismantled at the conclusion of the Olympics.

We all know what to expect on the beach right?  Brazil!  USA!  Battle on the Beach 2016!!  Throw in China perhaps on the women's draw to reclaim a podium spot after a 4th place finish in London.  And a surprise dark horse nation on the men's side to complete the podium.

Let's remember, this is a pool format competition.  There will be 6 pools comprised of 4 teams.  The top 2 teams earn automatic spots in the knockout stage.  The two best 3rd place teams also will earn automatic qualification as the top Lucky Losers.  The remaining four 3rd place teams will need to compete in a Lucky Loser playoff to determine the final two Round of 16 spots.  Got all that?  Good!

Let's get to the preview and medal predictions:

MEN



Pool Play

Pool A

Probably the most competitive and evenly matched pool in the competition.  Yes, the #1 overall seeds and world champion Brazilians (Alison - Bruno Schmidt) are the overwhelming favourites to win the pool (and the gold).  However, the other 3 teams in this pool are no slouch teams.  The Austrians (Doppler - Horst) and ranked #7 in the world and Italians (Carambula - Ranghieri) are ranked #13.  The Canadians (Binstock - Schachter) enter ranked #21 but have been playing some of their best volleyball of the year in having to qualify at the last-chance Continental Cup event in July.  Expect to see a few 3-set matches in this pool and some close scores.

Projected Standings:  1. Brazil  2. Austria  3. Canada  4. Italy

Pool B

The #2 seeded Dutch pairing of Brouwer - Meeuwsen should dominate this pool.  They were given a great draw coupled with 3 European teams whom they know they can beat.  #14 ranked Polish duo Kantor - Losiak should also be able to earn an automatic qualification spot from the pool.  The final Lucky Loser spot could be wide open between the #20 German team (Bockermann - Fluggen) and unranked Russians (Barsouk - Liamin).  Watch out for this Russian team.  Similar to Canada in Pool A, the Russians needed to qualify via the last-chance tournament so they have been playing with their backs against the wall for over a month....meaning they could be a dangerous dark horse upset team.

Projected Standings:  1. Netherlands  2. Poland  3. Russia  4. Germany

Pool C

Well USA's Dalhausser - Lucena certainly won't be complaining anytime soon about their draw.  The #3 seeds have been handed arguably the easiest pool in the tournament.  Dalhausser is the 2008 gold medal winner (with Rogers) and will be a medal favourite to continue the US domination in Rio.  The #16 Italians (Lupo - Nicolai) should also qualify for the knockout stage but could face some competition from a surging and surprising Mexico duo (Ontiveros - Virgen).  The Mexicans are ranked #17 and have been climbing up the world rankings over the past year.  Don't underestimate them!  Rounding out the pool will be the unseeded duo from Tunisia (Belhaj - Naceur).  They will be in tough to win a set.

Projected Standings:  1. USA  2. Mexico  3. Italy  4. Tunisia

Pool D

The Brazilians sure were not handed any favours with the men's beach volleyball draw.  Pool D will have the second Brazilian team competing, Evandro - Pedro Solberg.  While they may be seeded #4 in the event, they are competing against two teams currently ranked in the updated Top 6 of the FIVB rankings.  Latvia (Samoilovs - Smedins) were ranked #12 in the cut-off rankings but since then have been on a roll, finding the podium in their recent tournaments and actually currently sit #1 on the updated FIVB rankings.  Smedins also won a bronze medal four years ago in London (with Plavins).  And what about the Canadians Saxton - Schalk?  They were ranked #9 at the cut-off but enter here off a 3rd place finish in Austria and have cracked the Top 6 in the world rankings.  All 3 of these teams have a legit shot at winning the pool.  Rounding out the group will be an up and coming Cuba team (Diaz - Gonzalez).  Cuba is unranked as they do not play on the FIVB tour and rather play as many competitive matches as possible on the NORCECA tour.  Teams may be unfamiliar with their game style and that could be an advantage for them.

Projected Standings:  1. Latvia  2. Canada  3. Brazil  4. Cuba

Pool E

Enter the second top seeded Netherlands team, #5 Nummerdor - Varenhorst.  Nummerdor was a 4th place finisher in London (with Schuil), just missing the podium.  Interestingly enough, Nummerdor - Varenhorst are actually the higher ranked Dutch team in the world rankings but received the lower ranking seed here in Rio.  AND, Nummerdor was the #5 seed in London as well.  Given their draw though, I don't think they will complain too much.  They should go undefeated in the pool.  The second automatic qualification spot is going to be up for grabs though between the #14 Polish team (Prudel - Fijalek) and #18 Russians (Semenov - Krasilnikov).  The Polish pair did make the quarterfinals in London.  The final team in this pool is #23 Chile (Grimalt - Grimalt).

Projected Standings:  1. Netherlands  2. Russia  3. Poland  4. Chile

Pool F

And to continue the common seed nation trend, here comes the second USA team headlining Pool F.  #6 seed USA duo of Gibb - Patterson actually entered the Rio cut-off ranking as the #2 FIVB team.  In theory, they should be quite happy with their draw on paper.  However, facing another high seed and two dark horse teams could prove to be problematic.  #10 Spain (Gavira - Herrera) will be back on the Olympic beach after losing in the Round of 16 in London and should be a team to watch come the knockout stage.  A dark horse team to perhaps upset some of the big boys is Austria's Huber - Seidl.  A team not considered a contender heading into the games; however, they have also been playing great volleyball as of late, with strong results under their belts.  The big cheer on the beach could also come from the final team in the pool, Qatar's duo of Cherif - Jefferson.  This will be the first appearance for Qatar and if they can pick up their first win in their first Olympics, the beach volleyball world (and Copabana fans) will go crazy with excitement.

Projected Standings:  1. USA  2. Austria  3. Spain  4. Qatar

Knockout Stage

Semifinals

Brazil (Alison - Bruno Schmidt) over Latvia (Samoilovs - Smedins)
Netherlands (Brouwer - Meeuwsen) over USA (Dalhausser - Lucena)

Bronze Medal

Latvia (Samoilovs - Smedins) over USA (Dalhausser - Lucena)

Gold Medal

Brazil (Alison - Bruno Schmidt) over Netherlands (Brouwer - Meeuwsen)

#TwimeTime Medal Picks

Gold - Brazil (Alison - Bruno Schmidt)
Silver - Netherlands (Brouwer - Meeuwsen)
Bronze - Latvia (Samoilovs - Smedins)

WOMEN



Pool Play

Pool A

The best hope for a Brazilian gold medal could come from the #1 overall seeds here, Larissa and Talita.  Larissa won the bronze in London with former partner Juliana.  Talita finished 4th in 2008 with Renata.  Now Larissa and Talita have come together to form probably the best Brazilian women's beach volleyball team since Shelda - Behar.  They will have huge expectations on their shoulders though playing in front of the home crowd.  Similar to the #1 seeded men though, they do not have a slam dunk pool staring at them.  The #12 Polish team (Kolosinska - Brzostek) and #14 USA (Fendrick - Sweat) could pose bigger challenges than the top team would like to see early on in the competition.  The final pool team will be the Russians (Birlova - Ukolova), who needed to win the last-chance qualifier tournament to earn their spot on the beach.  Ukolova did compete in London though, advancing to the Round of 16 (with Khomyakova)

Projected Standings:  1. Brazil  2. Poland  3. USA  4. Russia

Pool B

Speaking of home crowd pressure, Pool B has the #2 seed and second Brazilian team: Agatha - Barbara.  Agatha - Barbara are actually ranked #1 in the FIVB rankings and help pose the double threat to see an All-Brazilian gold medal final.  They certainly should have no problems winning their pool.  Rival #22 Argentina (Gallay - Klug), #23 Spain (Elsa - Lilliana) and unseeded last-chance qualifiers Czech (Hermannova - Slukova) will fight for the final automatic spot.

Projected Standings:  1. Brazil  2. Spain  3. Argentina  4. Czech Republic

Pool C

The most dominant female beach volleyball player in the world will be the focus in Pool C.  Enter three-time defending Olympic gold medal winner Kerri Walsh Jennings.  No longer teaming with Misty May Treanor (retired), Walsh Jennings will now be joined on the beach by new partner April Ross.  Interesting to note, Walsh Jennings (and May Treanor) beat Ross (with Kessy) in the London 2012 gold medal match.  Walsh Jennings has never lost an Olympic beach volleyball match and will be looking to extend her record, and cement her #GOAT status, in Rio with Ross.  The #3 seeds should dominate their pool.  The only other seeded team they will face will be #15 Switzerland (Forrer - Verge-Depre) and even they should pose little threat.  Unseeded teams China (Wang - Yue) and Australia (Artacho Del Solar - Laird) complete the group and are not expected to compete for the playoffs.

Projected Standings:  1. USA  2. Switzerland  3. China  4. Australia

Pool D

The #4 seeded team hails from Germany (Ludwig - Walkenhorst) and have been one of the most consistent teams on the FIVB tour this season.  Ludwig competed in London (with Goller) and reached the quarterfinals so another strong performance and podium push is expected in Rio from her and her new teammate.  The group will not be an easy one for them however.  The Italian duo (Menegatti - Giombini) will be an interesting team to watch.  Originially Menegatti qualified with regular teammate Orsi Toth; however, Orsi Toth was removed from the games due to a positive doping test.  Menegatti and Orsi Toth would have been considered a team to watch for in the knockout stage had they been competing together.  The question will be on how Menegatti and Giombini can communicate and gel quick enough to make a run here.  Menegatti did compete in London, won her group (with Cicolari) and lost the quarterfinal to May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings.  A team that could replace the Italians as a dark horse contender is #20 Canada (Broder - Valjas).  Broder - Valjas have been steadily increasing their ranking over the past year and may be ready to shine at their Olympic debut.  Rounding out the group will be Egypt's duo of Elghobashy - Nada.  This will also be their Olympic debut and they should be a crowd favourite as a potential upset team.

Projected Standings:   1. Germany  2. Canada  3. Italy  4. Egypt

Pool E

Looking for a wide open pool on the women's draw?  Look no further than Pool E.  Highlighted by the #5 seed Canadians (Bansley - Pavan), the competition will be quite intense for the two automatic knockout stage spots.  Bansley - Pavan should still be considered the favourite and, outside of the favoured Brazilians and USA, could also be considered the team to watch for a strong #PodiumPush as they have put together the best season on tour for any Canadian duo.  Joining them will be fierce competition from #11 Germany (Borger - Buthe) and #20 Switzerland (Heidrich - Zumkehr).  Zumkehr competed in London as the #11 seed (with Kuhn) and reached the Round of 16. Rounding out the group will be unseeded Dutch pairing of van der Vlist - van Gestel.  van Gestel also competed in London (with Meppelink) and lost in the Round of 16.

Projected Standings:  1. Canada  2. Switzerland  3. Netherlands  4. Germany

Pool F

The final group of the competition may be the easiest to predict.  The #6 seeded team from the Netherlands (Meppelink - Van Iersel) and #10 Australians (Bawden - Clancy) should run away from their competitors, setting up a winner takes first match in the final pool play game on August 10.  Interestingly enough, Meppelink and Bawden were in the same pool in London four years ago.  Meppelink (with van Gestel) beat Bawden (with Palmer) 2-0 to advance to the Round of 16.  Rounding out the group will be Costa Rica (Alfaro - Charles) and Venezuela (Agudo-Pazo).  This is a great opportunity though for two up and coming nations to qualify for the knockout stage.  The winner of the Costa Rica - Venezuela match on August 10 will, at the worst, qualify for the Lucky Loser playoff game and have a shot at the Round of 16.

Projected Standings:  1. Netherlands  2. Australia  3. Costa Rica  4. Venezuela

Knockout Stage

Semifinals

Brazil (Larissa - Talita) over Canada (Bansley - Pavan)
Brazil (Agatha - Barbara) over USA (Walsh Jennings - Ross)

Bronze Medal

USA (Walsh Jennings - Ross) over Canada (Bansley - Pavan)

Gold Medal

Brazil (Larissa - Talita) over Brazil (Agatha - Barbara)

#TwimeTime Medal Picks

Gold - Brazil (Larissa - Talita)
Silver - Brazil (Agatha - Barbara)
Bronze - USA (Walsh Jennings - Ross)

Stay up to date on all the #BetweenTheRings #Rio2016 Previews below:

Welcome to Rio 2016
Women's Football Preview
Men's Football Preview
Tennis Preview
Rugby Sevens Preview
Men's Basketball Preview
Men's Indoor Volleyball Preview
Women's Basketball Preview

Also, don't forget to have YOUR voice heard on what sport(s) you are most excited about watching during the XXXI Olympiad by voting on the #TwineTime homepage.