CUT SHOTS: COPACABANA TAKEAWAYS
By Tom Feuer
(Rio de Janeiro August 17) Some final thoughts on the Rio beach volleyball competition (this is being written just before the medal matches)
Most Valuable Player: Laura Ludwig, Germany. No elite athlete raised their game more than the German, Ludwig. She was a Hoover vacuum on defense, hit a very heavy ball on offense and provided great leadership to her relatively inexperienced, 25 year old partner, Kira Walkenhorst. By the way, USA volleyball should consider hiring their coach Juergen Wagner. He led Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann to a gold medal in 2012 when they beat the heavily favored Brasilian team of Alison and Emanuel in the final. Whatever Wagner is doing works really well.
In addition to her great play on the court, Ludwig is also play-ful off the court taking selfies with anyone and everyone who asks, dancing to the arena music, and displaying a 1000 watt smile.
Most Disappointing Team: The Latvians, Janis Smedins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs, came into Copacabana as one of the hottest teams in the world, having just won the prestigious Klagenfurt Major and finishing in the top four in their last four tournaments leading into the Olympics. They went belly up in their pool D, losing to Evandro and Pedro of Brasil and the Cubans (see below) which knocked them out of the knockout round.
Runner-up: Evandro and Pedro
Best Match: A quarterfinal between the Cuban team of Sergio Gonzalez and Nivaldo Diaz and the Russian outfit of Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Knostantin Semenov. The latter team won 22-20, 22-24, 18-16. After it was all over the four players remained sprawled, exhausted, and spent on the court and it was hard to tell from the scene that unfolded, who actually captured the match. Diaz, at 22, the second youngest player in the tournament, was absolutely heartbroken, clothed in a towel. The Cuban team, if it can get sponsorship, will be a very tough out on the FIVB World Tour going forward.
Sportsmanship Award: A tie between Alison Cerutti of Brasil and Kerri Walsh Jennings. Alison is a true gentleman. He respects all of his opponents, apologizes if he runs into someone under the net, admits when he touches the ball on a block…A gentle giant to be sure. I was very impressed how Walsh Jennings handled her loss to Agatha and Barbara of Brasil. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, she consoled her partner April Ross, still slapped five with the personnel surrounding the court, and immediately set her sights to the bronze medal match. I ran into Casey Jennings, Kerri’s husband after the match, and he left little doubt from his perspective, that Kerri would continue on to Tokyo in 2020.
Crowd Control: Two things about the fans that will be a takeaway from the Copacabana site. The first is that they were consistently late arriving, I think due in no small part to the long security lines that plagued many Rio venues. Something needs to be done about this at future Games. The Olympics are a great television spectacle but must be made more spectator-friendly. Between the traffic, security and lack of edible food in some places, organizers need to double down and think of the fans. The empty seats for marquee events do not look good to a global audience.
Now, the local Cariocas were far from sportsmanlike, booing or whistling consistently any team that got ahead of the Brasilians. At the same time they were probably the most passionate group of people ever seen at a beach volleyball venue.
Most Ubiquitous Presence: This award goes to Randy Stoklos, who was everywhere in Copacabana. He was a regular spectator, as expected, at the Team USA matches with girlfriend Suzanne Rottman. However, not as well known, is that he has been a longtime mentor and friend to Alison, who looks up to Stokie, and considers him part of his inner circle. The comparisons between the two are striking. Stoklos, who won DiG Magazine’s poll as the Greatest Hitter of All-Time hit a heavy ball like Alison, has a similar intimidating presence at the net, and was a fan favorite (at least to those everywhere in the world outside of Los Angeles’ South Bay).
Stoklos also made numerous appearances at the FIVB Volleyball House and I even caught him setting nails in a match he was playing on one of the Copacabana public courts playing with Canada’s Sarah Pavan and Heather Bansley.
Another presence on the public courts was Jeremy Casebeer who is married to one of the Salgado sisters and was getting in some good training ahead of the AVP Chicago Open.
Challenge System: It has its merits but I think the up referee needs to immediately announce to the spectators exactly what is being challenged. Oftentimes it is hard to understand whether, for instance, a net, block/touch or out of bounds play is being reviewed, sometimes all of them can apply plausibly on the same play.
Where Do We Go from Here?: This was a challenging Olympics for USA Volleyball. Had Alison and Bruno taken care of business in Pool A by beating Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena would not have had to meet them in the quarterfinals. Had a controversial four touch call not gone against Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson in their match with the Spaniards they would have been able potentially to advance out of their pool. Had the Olympic qualification process not have been a year and a half hejira, Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes may have ended up as the second USA entrant and gotten valuable experience. Finally, should Walsh Jennings return to the left side in the next quadrennial, and if so, should she partner with Hughes?
For now, we get to see the best in the world in Long Beach next week in the most important of the post-Olympic tournaments.
Tom Feuer has been a close observer of the sport since 1976. He currently works as the Director of Arizona State’s Cronkite Sports Bureau in Santa Monica, CA and is a Professor of Practice. Prior to that, he was the Executive Producer for Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket in Los Angeles and has won three National Emmy Awards for his work in television.