SHANGHAI, CHINA, May 5, 2007 - The third-time was the “charm” for Nila Ann Hakedal and Ingrid Torlen as the Norwegians have finally reached a gold medal match on the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour after losing in the semi-finals at the last two women’s international Beach Volleyball events in Mexico and Thailand.
Seeded fifth in the US$400,000 China Shanghai Jinshan Open, Hakedal and Torlen had to win three matches here Saturday to earn a spot in the gold medal match opposite of top-seeded Jie Wang and Jia Tian of China as both tandems defeated teams from Brazil in the semi-finals.
It will be the fifth SWATCH-FIVB World Tour meeting between the two teams with the Chinese winning the previous four matches, including a 21-19, 19-21 and 15-9 semi-final win this past November in Phuket, Thailand.
With both Brazilian teams losing after advancing to the “final four” with perfect 4-0 match marks each, it marked only the 30th time in 150 women’s SWATCH-FIVB World Tour events that a tandem from the South American country had not advanced to an international gold medal match.
Hakedal and Torlen, who have now earned three-straight semi-final appearances after the European country had not had a women’s team reach a SWATCH-FIVB World Tour “final four” in almost 15 years, advanced to the China Shanghai Jinshan Open gold medal match with a 21-19, 15-21 and 15-12 win over fourth-seeded Talita Antunes and Renata Ribeiro of Brazil.
The semi-final victory avenged two previous SWATCH-FIVB World Tour losses to Talita and Renata, including a 21-19, 17-21 and 15-10 setback Friday in the third-round of the China Shanghai Jinshan Open that forced the Norwegians to play three elimination matches to reach the “final four”.
“I feel that we are stronger mentally than last year,” said the Torlen, who has been playing full-time on the SWATCH circuit since 2002. “Last year, our technique and physical strength was good. But, we were thinking that everybody was so much better than us. But, we started believing in ourselves at the end of the season started playing better than others.”
After starting the 2006 SWATCH season with two 13ths and a pair of 17ths, Hakedal and Torlen did not finish lower than ninth in the next 10 international stops. A third-place in Acapulco was the highlight where the Norwegians defeated two-time FIVB point’s champions Juliana Felisberta Silva and Larissa Franca of Brazil for the bronze medal after extending reigning Olympic and World champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh of the United States to three sets in the semis.
A pair of 27-year olds, Hakedal and Torlen rank 10th in SWATCH team participations with 61 FIVB starts together as the pair placed in 19th in team career earnings with $297,770. The Norwegians, who competed in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, finished as the top team from Europe on the 2006 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour as their No. 8-ranking netted them $111,400 in earnings last season.
Jie Wang and Jia Tian, who will be competing in their fifth SWATCH title match with a pair of gold medals to their credit last season in Austria and Poland, advanced to the finals with a 21-15 and 21-18 victory over third-seeded Leila Barros and Ana Paula Connell of Brazil.
Earlier Saturday, Jie Wang and Jia Tian eliminated second-seeded Chen Xue and Xi Zhang 21-12 and 32-30 to advance to the semi-finals. The two teams played for the 2006 China Shanghai Jinshan Open gold medal with Chen Xue and Xi Zhang winning the All-Chinese finale.
The season-opening event for both men and women on the 2007 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour calendar, the women’s China Shanghai Jinshan Open continues through Sunday’s medal matches where the final two teams compete for the $32,000 first-place prize. The men’s competition concluded Saturday with Harley Marques and Pedro Salgado upsetting defending China Shanghai Jinshan Open champions Marcio Araujo and Fabio Magalhaes 15-21, 22-20 and 15-12 in the finals.
The China Shanghai Jinshan Open, which launches the qualifying process for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, is the first of four Asian stops on the women’s SWATCH-FIVB World Tour in 2007. Other Asian stops are in Singapore (May 23-27), Seoul (May 30-June 3) and Thailand (Phuket, Oct. 31-Nov. 4).
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS