Seoul, Korea, June 1, 2007 - Four teams from Beach Volleyball power Brazil remain in the competition for the gold medal at the US$200,000 Seoul Open, but tandems from Australia and China gained the first two “final four” berths here Friday in the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour event.
Top-seeded Jie Wang and Jia Tian of China were joined by 14th-seeded Tamsin Barnett and Natalie Cook of Australia in notching semi-final-qualifying victories Friday afternoon over two teams from Brazil to advance to the semi-finals in the inaugural Seoul Open at Han River Jamsil Citizen Park.
While Jie Wang and Tian’s advancement came as no surprise as the Chinese have claimed gold and silver medals last month at the first two SWATCH-FIVB World Tour events this season, Barnett and Cook have now upset the second- and third-seeded teams in the Seoul Open from Brazil to earn their first-ever “final four” international Beach Volleyball berth.
After posing a 21-19 and 21-16 win over fifth-seeded Leila Barros and Ana Paula Connelly for their third-straight win over the Brazilians after losing the first five SWATCH meetings in the series, Jie Wang and Tian have advanced to a FIVB semi-final for the seventh-straight time. During the streak, the Chinese pair has collected three gold medals, two silvers and a bronze.
Barnett and Cook reached the medal round with a 21-13 and 21-16 victory over second-seeded Juliana Felisberta Silva and Larissa Franca in the first-ever meeting between the two teams. The Aussies, who are playing in only third SWATCH event together with a seventh and ninth last month in China and Singapore, respectively, advanced to Friday’s play by defeating third-seeded Talita Antunes and Renata Ribeiro of Brazil 21-19, 19-21 and 15-9 Thursday.
“It’s been only five months since we played together as a team,” said the 27-year old Barnett, who will be competing in her first-ever SWATCH-FIVB World Tour semi-final Saturday afternoon. “But we have worked very hard. And playing in this kind of international competition is helpful for us to prepare for the Olympic Games.
“I have the height, and she has speed and techniques,” added the 193cm Barnett. “I think that is our strong point. I have been playing Beach Volleyball for only three years, and she has been competing on the SWATCH tour for the past 15 years with two Olympic medals. All our opponents were good and Brazilian teams are always very strong. But we are very confident.”
For Cook, a three-time Olympian and two-time medalist with a gold in the Sydney 2000 Summer Games, the Seoul Open “final four” berth is her first international semi-final since the Athens 2004 Olympics when she and Nicole Sanderson placed fourth after losing to teams from Brazil and the United States in the medal rounds.
Brazil will still have two chances Saturday for semi-final spots. Juliana and Larissa will be seeking their 20th-straight FIVB “final four” spot in a match against the winner of an opening elimination contest Saturday between Talita and Renata and fourth-seeded Chen Xue and Xi Zhang of China. Jie Wang and Tian will play the survivor of the three-team elimination playoff in the first-semi-final match.
Another Brazil vs. China elimination match starts Saturday’s play as play 22nd-seeded Lu Wang and Man Zuo challenges seventh-seeded Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede with the winner facing Leila and Ana Paula for a semi-final spot opposite of Barnett and Cook. The Aussies opened play Friday with a 21-12 and 21-16 win over Lu Wang and Zuo.
The third qualifying event for the Beijing 2008 Olympics, the Seoul Open continues through Sunday when the final two teams play for the $32,000 first-place prize. The Summer Games qualifying process concludes July 20, 2008 to determine the 24-team field per gender. A team’s best eight finishes from SWATCH FIVB World Tour events and FIVB-recognized Continental Championship Finals will be counted.
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS