Lausanne, April 22, 2008 - After almost eight months of inactivity, Vassiliki Arvaniti and Vasso Karadassiou are eager to return to competition on the SWATCH FIVB World Tour as the Greek pair looks to solidify a spot among the top six teams for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
After winning their second European Championship last August in Valencia, Spain, Arvaniti and Karadassiou completed their 2007 competitive schedule the next week in Russia where the Greeks advanced to the St. Petersburg "final four" where they upset Brazilians Talita Antunes and Renata Ribeiro for a semi-final spot.
"We are eager to get back to playing," said two-time Olympian Karadassiou after her team missed the European opener last week in Spain as a flu virus sidelined Arvaniti. "We wanted to play last week, but Vicky was not ready to compete at a very high level. It was better to take another week off and start playing again in Shanghai."
The US$350,000 China Shanghai Jinshan Open, the second SWATCH FIVB World Tour event on the 2008 calendar, is April 28-May 4 where Arvaniti and Karadassiou enter the competition as the eighth-ranked team on the women's qualifying list for the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
To qualify for August's Summer Games, a team's best eight finishes on the SWATCH FIVB World Tour count while tandems from Europe can use one of their placements in the continental championships. Arvaniti and Karadassiou defeated Germans Sara Goller and Laura Ludwig for the 2007 European title with the 2008 continental champions set for July 10-13 in Hamburg, Germany.
Karadassiou based her team's eagerness on not playing in the past eight months. "We are in good shape as far as qualifying for the Olympics," said Karadassiou, who placed ninth in the Athens Games with Efi Sfyri as did Arvaniti with Efthalia Koutroumanidou.
"During our break, we have worked to improve with more variety in both of our attack and better combinations in our defense as a team," Karadassiou noted. "We are also working on our service game. This means more accuracy with more variety of serves."
Competing together since the start of the 2005 SWATCH FIVB World Tour season with one gold medal finish together in Norway where Arvaniti won the Stavanger Grand Slam title at the age of 20, Karadassiou cites "chemistry" as her team's biggest asset.
"We feel like we are sisters and she is my little one," said the 35-year old Karadassiou, who has been competing international since 1997. "Although we have different personalities, we complement each other which is a positive. We are passionate with what we do. We try our best on the court by keeping our respect for each other. I think this is the most important thing."
After winning the 2007 European Championships and placing fourth in St. Petersburg, the Greeks concluded their season as Karadassiou was nursing some minor muscle injuries. Also Karadassiou was settling into married life with Nikos Roumeliotis, a member of the Greek National Volleyball Team.
"I admire him for the way he does things," said Karadassiou about her husband, who has been a member of the Greek National Team since he was 16. "We met at a Beach Volleyball tournament in Crete. With all the travel for both of us, we have a good understanding of each other's needs. His support and encouragement has really helped."
As for the Olympics, Karadassiou rates "the ABCs as the teams to beat. The Americans, the Brazilians and the Chinese are very tough. Americans May-Treanor (Misty) and Walsh (Kerri) are the best team right now. I like the way they compliment each other. Brazilians Juliana (Felisberta Silva) and Larissa (Franca) play extremely hard and the Chinese are improving with every tournament. Our goal is to be among the best eight in Beijing. Earning a medal would be a dream come true."
Entering the 2008 international Beach Volleyball season, Arvaniti and Karadassiou rank 16th all-time in FIVB earnings with $376,750. In 38 SWATCH FIVB World Tour, Arvaniti and Karadassiou have 31 top-nine placements with two medals, six "final four" finishes and a 116-75 (60.7%) match mark.
As the only men's or women's Greek team to compete in a FIVB gold medal match, Arvaniti and Karadasiou competed for their first SWATCH title at a 2005 stop in Milan, Italy.
With teams from Brazil, China and the United States all but set in securing spots among the top six seeded teams for the Beijing 2008 Olympics, three Beach Volleyball tandems from Europe will be seeking to enrich their chances for a top berths at this August's Summer Games.
Starting with the China Shanghai Jinshan Open, 10 events remain on the 2008 SWATCH FIVB World Tour before the end of the Beijing qualifying process July 20 in Marseille, France. China appears to have netted the top spot in the women's seedings for the Beijing Games as the qualifying format guarantees the host country the No. 1 ranking if a tandem from the Asian country finishes among the top six teams during the process that started in May 2007.
Jia Tian and Jie Wang, who started the Beijing process by winning the first qualifying event last May in Shanghai, are currently listed third on the Olympic list with 5,200 points for their best eight SWATCH FIVB World Tour finishes while Chinese compatriots Chen Xue and Xi Zhang have 4,260 points.
With a 1,670-point edge over No. 7 Goller and Ludwig, Tian and Wang appear headed to securing the top Olympic seed to move ahead of reigning Olympic gold medal winners May-Treanor and Walsh and three-time SWATCH FIVB World Tour champions Juliana and Larissa.
With seven firsts and a third to their credit for 5,840 Beijing 2008 Olympic qualifying points, May-Treanor and Walsh only need a SWATCH FIVB World Tour Grand Slam gold medal in Berlin, Paris, Norway or Moscow before the end of the Summer Games process to achieve a "perfect" point total. During the 2007 portion of qualifying, May-Treanor posted a 53-1 record with their only setback being to Tian and Wang in the semi-finals at the Norwegian Grand Slam in Stavanger.
After winning the 2008 SWATCH FIVB World Tour season opener at the end of last month in Adelaide, Australia, Juliana and Larissa have 5,240 points for their best eight international Beach Volleyball finishes during the Olympic qualifying period. The Brazilians have reached the point in qualifying where only gold medal finishes will improve their Beijing total.
The teams of Talita/Renata of Brazil (4,080 points) and Americans Nicole Branagh/Elaine Youngs (3,800) are ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, for Beijing, but still must face challengers from compatriots for their country's second Olympic berth.
In addition to Goller/Ludwig (3,530 Beijing qualifying points), other teams seeking one of the top six seeds for the Olympics are Arvaniti/Karadassiou (3,380), Australians Tamsin Barnett/Natalie Cook (3,220) and Stephanie Pohl/Okka Rau of Germany (2,950).
Three of the four teams appear headed for the Olympics while Pohl and Rau, who finished fifth at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games after being eliminated by Youngs and Holly McPeak in the quarterfinals, must withstand a challenge by a third German team.
Pohl and Rau are 130 points ahead of Rieke Brink-Abeler and Hella Jurich (2,820) as both Germans tandems join other European teams in being able to use one of their two finishes in the continental championships as one of their eight qualifying placements for Beijing.
While Goller and Ludwig captured the season opening European tour stop in Spain last week by defeating Austrians Sara Montagnolli and Sabine Swoboda in the finals, Pohl and Rau scored an 18-21, 25-23 and 15-12 win over Brink-Abeler and Jurich enroute to a fifth-place finish.
Arvaniti and Karadassiou gained 500 points last August by winning the European Championships in Spain. Although not counted towards Olympic qualification, Goller and Ludwig won the European tour's season-opening event last week in Spain by defeating Austrians Sara Montagnolli and Sabine Swoboda in the finals.
photos Janos Schmidt