Hamburg Major Concludes Olympic Beach Qualification Period
By Jackie Skender
As Canada’s participation at the Hamburg Major Series event came to an end today, there was still reason to celebrate.
All five of the Canadian teams that were in the main draw and reached the knockout rounds were eliminated, but three teams finally confirmed their Olympic berths after weeks of being in a position to qualify for the Games.
On the women’s side, Kristina Valjas (Toronto, ON) and Jamie Broder (Victoria, BC) will join Heather Bansley (Waterdown, ON) and Sarah Pavan (Kitchener, ON) as Canada will have two female entrants in an Olympic tournament for the first time. On the men’s side, Chaim Schalk (Red Deer, AB) and Ben Saxton (Calgary, AB) will be making their Olympic debuts.
Broder and Valjas were eliminated by Americans April Ross and Kerri Walsh-Jennings in three sets (17-21, 21-12, 5-15) in a match where a dominant second set, especially with some fine serving from Valjas, couldn’t be carried over to a third set.
That couldn’t take the gloss off the culmination of years of work resulting in Olympic qualification. “We’ve been planning for this for the last four years,” said Valjas. “Our coach has told us to believe in ourselves and that we’d make it. Now that it’s actually here, I can’t say that I’m surprised because we’ve worked hard to get here but now it’s about focussing in on the biggest tournament of our lives.”
Walsh and Ross would be the bane of another Canadian team as they took out the tandem of Bansley and Pavan (Canada’s top ranked team) in straight sets in the round-of-16 (17-21, 19-21). It was a tough one for the pair, as they were up in the second set but weren’t able to take a very tight second set.
Also eliminated in the round-of-16 were Melissa Humana-Paredes (Toronto) and Taylor Pischke (Winnipeg, MB). They got through Katrin Holtwick and Ilka Semmler in straight sets on centre court (21-18, 21-17) but couldn’t beat Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst in the round of 16, dropping to them in straight sets (18-21, 16-21).
In the men’s draw, Albertans Ben Saxton and Chaim Schalk were involved in a heated match with Pedro Solberg and Evandro that saw Solberg given a red card in the first set for persisting in disputing an out call.
The Canadians came so close to taking the first set but faltered in the second to lose the match in straight sets (19-21, 8-21) but like the two women’s teams to qualify, they have the consolation of knowing they’re going to Rio for what will be one of the hot ticket events at the Olympics.
“It’s pretty crazy to think about. A lot of people say that’s where beach volleyball started,” said Schalk. “The Copacabana is going to be crazy. We played down in Rio at a Grand Slam and it was insane already. I think you can’t get any more of a perfect scenario than that.”
The other Canadian pair in the main draw will have to go through the Continental Qualifier route if they hope to secure a second spot in the Olympics. Richmond Hill, Ontario’s Josh Binstock and Sam Schachter needed a podium finish to book a ticket to Rio directly but were in tough to No. 2 seeds Rinder Nummerdor and Christian Varenhoorst from the Netherlands, ultimately losing to them in straight sets (18-21, 13-21).