FIVB Beach Volleyball - Women’s Hellas Open
June 8, 2003
The first event of the 2003 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour drew to an exciting close on Sunday here on this picturesque Greek island when the world's leading men's teams battled it out for the title on a court set up in a historic square just adjacent to the beach. And to capture the advantage of the magnificent Mediterranean evening air it was, as it will be at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, held under lights.
In what is certainly a landmark year for this exciting Olympic sport, the event, a men's Open one week before the women also meet here for their season's opener, was characterized by highly competitive play that illustrated that the gap between the dominant Brazilian and USA players and the rest of the world has narrowed. From now on there will be little room for the top teams to coast through to the round of sixteen in comfort.
After the main draw pool play, teams from Canada, Switzerland, Cuba, Netherlands, Austria, Norway and Australia joined the Brazilians and Americans in the shakeout, and from then on, matches resembled a battle of attrition that signals that the sport has not only become more professional, but the standard of play much more demanding.
By the semifinals, just one team from Brazil remained with Benjamin Insfran and Marcio Henrique Barroso Araujo meeting Canadians John Child and Mark Heese, while Olympic gold medallist Dain Blanton and his lofty new partner and ex-national Volleyball player Jeff Nygaard were the sole USA team left to play against Austrians Niki Berger and Clemens Doppler.
The final came down to a contest between the new partnership of Blanton and Nygaard against the highly-experienced Brazilians, the top ranked team in Rhodes after finishing second on the 2002 World Tour.
But it was the Americans who upset the form books to secure the gold medal with a 22-20, 21-18 victory, with Blanton producing an inspired defensive performance that also won him the Speedo Most Valuable Player Award. Bronze went to Berger and Doppler, whose third place was also a career-best finish for the fast-improving duo.
While players are chiefly concerned with their individual results, looked at in the bigger picture they represent a strong signal for the globalization of the sport. Indeed in the main draw pool play a team from Estonia forced Austrians Berger and Doppler to 30-28 in their second set, while a Russian pair Roman Arkaev and Dimitri Barsouk drove Sweden's Bjorn Berg and Simon to a tense 19-17 tiebreaker, nearly spoiling their chances of making the final 16.
There is no doubt that this year's World Tour will more than ever before challenge the recognized stars and set the scene for a highly competitive pre-Olympic year.
The event also launched the FIVB's new partnership with title sponsor Swatch, the world's biggest manufacturer of time keeping and timing devices and was enhanced by animated electronic score boards and a speed measuring device that revealed some players can serve at more than 83km per hour.
In addition, on the occasion of World Environment Day (June 5), the FIVB launched its partnership with Global Sports Alliance and their Eco Flag program, which encourages environmental awareness among sports enthusiasts around the world.
All Swatch-FIVB World Tour events will from now on fly the Eco Flag and actively promote the slogan Keep the beach clean - think environment!