I keep recalling the moment when it genuinely seemed like Cubans Nivaldo Díaz and Sergio González could beat the stellar Russian team of Viacheslav Krasilnikov-Konstantin Semenov in the Río de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
I remember how at around midnight, the Cubans beat the Russians 24-22 in the second set of the quarter finals, and although the team eventually lost, thus failing to position themselves among the top four of the event, the match served as a clear demonstration of the Caribbean team’s potential.
Now however, Díaz and González are facing a strong challenge as they head to the second round of the Beach Volleyball World Tour, after winning the Malaysian leg on April 16. The duo were almost invincible in the opening round of the competition, where they won all four matches, losing just one set (21-19) to the Estonian team composed of Mark Tiisaar and Klusti Nolvak, while none of Cuba’s three remaining opponents were able to score more than 18 points against them.
Every week, the Beach Volleyball World Ranking calculates the results of over 1,000 players worldwide, taking into consideration their eight best performances over the past year.
The World Tour kicked off last February in Fort Lauderdale, the United States, after which it moved on to Brazil, Iran, and Australia, before making its fifth stop in Malaysia, where the Cuban team triumphed; their number one objective being to qualify for the World Championships taking place July 28 through August 6 in Vienna.
Speaking to Granma International just days before the team set off for the tournament, Díaz-González’s mentor Leonides Regüeiferos explained that the two are scheduled to participate in four World Tour stops, as well as the NORCECA Championship, in order to earn more points toward their ranking, as it would be very difficult to secure a ticket to the World Championships by playing just the four scheduled stops on the Tour. Playing the NORCECA Championship offers the pair a greater possibility of securing the necessary points.
Thus, the Cuban duo will compete from April 20-23 on the sands of Xiamen, China, and then again from May 17-21 in Río de Janeiro, where they will also train, before their final competition from the 24th to the 28th that same month in Lucerna, Switzerland.
AMONG THE CREAM OF THE CROP
The duo of Nivaldo Díaz-Sergio González was formed in mid 2013, under the guidance of coach Regüeiferos, making a name for themselves on the international Beach Volleyball scene during the World Championships in Holland 2015, where they finished in ninth place.
The 2016 Olympic games gave the two another opportunity to make their mark, which is exactly what they did, defeating the host team featuring Pedro Solberg and Evandro Gonçalves Oliveira Júnior, ranked fifth in the world, with 3,532 points; a far cry from the Cubans’ 1,230 points and 63rd place according to the latest ranking update on April 10, although this position should improve.
Meanwhile, the team from the Netherlands, Reinder Numerdor-Christian Varenhorst (17-2,840), also fell before the might of the Cuban duo, followed by Austrians Clemens Doppler-Alexander Horst, ranked 23rd in the world with 2,340 points; defeated in sets of 21-17, 21-14. Such was the brief and intense run of Regüeiferos’ students, before coming up against fifth seeded team with 2,850 points, Krasilnikov-Semenov of Russia.
The Cuban duo, together with Mexicans Juan Virgen-Lombardo Ontiveros (11- 3,020), are the only Latin Americans to be competing among the cream of the crop of international beach volleyball, dominated mostly by European players, as well as some from Brazil, the United States and Canada.