Plavins and Regza add another gem to Latvia’s sporting history, Russia and Czech Republic celebrate silver and bronze
2015 European Games
Baku, Azerbaijan, June 21, 2015. Martins Plavins and Haralds Regza made history on Sunday night for Latvia as they did not only claim the gold medal of the men’s Beach Volleyball competition, but they also turned into their country’s first ever European Games gold medallists. Since the Baku 2015 European Games had started more than a week ago, Latvia had indeed ‘only’ won a bronze medal in women’s wrestling with Anastasija Grigorjeva and therefore the achievement of Plavins and Regza can be described as a truly ‘historic’ one.
Plavins adds this honour to the bronze medal he won with former partner Janis Smedins at the London Olympics three years ago whilst his young partner Haralds Regza can celebrate his first major international title after taking silver at the 2011 CEV U20 European Championship with his regular partner Armands Abolins. Plavins and Regza delivered a superb show to cap their perfect campaign in the tournament with a 2:1 (21-16, 18-21, 15-10) win over Russia’s Dmitry Barsouk and Yaroslav Koshkarev. The result is even more remarkable since going into the Baku 2015 European Games Plavins and Regza had never played together before.
41-year old Premysl Kubala – the oldest player in the field at the Baku 2015 European Games – and his partner Jan Hadrava provided a large number of Czech fans in attendance with something to cheer about as they delivered a superb performance to edge Alexei Strasser/Gabriel Kissling of Switzerland 21-17, 21-15 to claim the bronze medal.
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Three years on another memorable Beach Volleyball night for Latvia
The gold medal match of the men’s competition started in a promising way for 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Martins Plavins and his one-off partner Haralds Regza. Though this was their first tournament together, their team work and chemistry clearly developed match after match and they set the tempo of the game right from its outset. Dmitry Barsouk and Yaroslav Koshkarev responded with some ‘power Volleyball’ of their own to keep the score tight but the Latvians did never relinquish the small lead they had claimed early on. The actions resumed after the ‘ordinary’ time-out with Plavins and 2011 U20 European silver medallist Regza leading the way by 12:9 and a superb block by the younger of the two Latvians moved the score to 13:10 shortly afterwards. However, it was still a way too early to assume Barsouk and Koshkarev would give in and the 35-year old ‘Dima’ cut the deficit to only one point doing a superb job at the net (15:14). Koshkarev had the chance to draw level at 16 but Regza was not caught by surprise and the next rally was closed with an amazing spike by Plavins. The Latvian show continued all the way through to the end with Regza blocking Barsouk to seal the final 21-16.
The early stages of the second set were more challenging for the Latvians who had to chase their opponents as Barsouk and Koshkarev had stepped up their efforts to remain in contention for the highly coveted gold medal. Plavins and Regza finally drew level at 10 all after Barsouk sent the ball off the bounds. The Latvian fans following the match from the stands as well as from home probably got back memories from that incredible night where Plavins and Smedins had won an unprecedented Olympic medal at London 2012 and they definitely were being treated well again as their heroes got to the front for the first time at 13:12, this way prompting a time-out by their Russian rivals. A ‘lucky ace’ by Haralds Regza extended the Latvian lead but Barsouk restored the balance at 16:16. Two mistakes in a row by Plavins flipped the charts around with Barsouk/Koshkarev then leading 18:16 as the set was entering its final stages. The 2012 Olympic bronze medallist decided to ask for a break, but Regza sent it wide again; the Russians got three set balls and Koshkarev cashed the second to extend the final match to the tie-break (21-18).
The final set was the absolute climax of the match and the perfect way to end the Beach Volleyball competition of the inaugural European Games; the audience was mesmerised by the actions of the four players competing for gold and after that shaky final section of the second set, Plavins and Regza were back in fine form (6:3) as they also enjoyed the vocal support from the Baku crowd. The Latvians were able to hold on to this early lead (12:8) and after Koshkarev’s missed serve, they were just two points away from gold. Regza closed the next rally (14:9) but Plavins took the responsibility to finish it off at 15-10 for another unforgettable night for Latvia which is slowly turning into Europe’s real Beach Volleyball ‘Mecca’.
“It is just amazing,” Plavins commented being interviewed right after the end of the final. “We did not have any special plan for this match,” he joked. “Actually yes, we had worked on our tactics for the final and we stuck to our game plan and I am happy it worked just fine in the end. We fought for every single point, the more since this was a close and tough match like any other final.”
After the medal ceremony and once the emotions had settled a bit, Plavins added: “I am extremely happy with this medal. We knew it was going to be three sets for sure. I played many times against Barsouk and I know that he is a fighter. We tried to stay calm and not to waste our energy. Now we are going back to Latvia and will prepare for the Latvian Championships. But first we have a few days of well-deserved rest.”
“We played a great tournament. The most critical situation was when we played Azerbaijan and the match lasted for three sets. If we had not won that match I don’t know how this campaign would have ended. This is a great experience and I hope that Azerbaijan can organise some more Beach Volleyball tournaments in the future.”
Czech blend of youth and experience strikes bronze
Six days of classy actions at the Beach Arena in Baku reached their climax on Sunday night with – finally – pleasant weather conditions as the heat was finally gone and a light breeze welcomed the players vying for a medal at the first ever European Games.
Switzerland’s Alexei Strasser/Gabriel Kissling and Premysl Kubala/Jan Hadrava of the Czech Republic opened the programme of the final session hoping to get back on track after their semi-final losses earlier in the day. Kissling and Strasser were the first ones to claim a mini-break (7:4) as they were loudly cheered on by the same group of Swiss fans that on Saturday night had witnessed Nina Betschart and Nicole Eiholzer strike the gold medal in the women’s competition. This gap, however, was quickly erased by the Czechs who levelled the score at 7 and after another run of three points by the Swiss, equality was restored at 10. Each one of the tandems fighting for bronze got its share of support from the stands and the quality of the actions on display continued to improve as the match progressed. Jan Hadrava stopped Strasser for a 17:15 Czech lead that prompted a time-out by the Swiss guys. Kubala and Hadrava set their sight on the finish line after a mistake by Strasser moved the score to 19:16 and only a few moments later a spectacular defence by Hadrava piled up four set points for the Czechs. After missing out on the first chance to finish it off, Kubala smashed the Mikasa down the line to seal the 21-17 set win and get the right edge in the match.
A monster block by Jan Hadrava got the Czechs to the front in the second set (6:3) and their lead grew even bigger after an ace by the younger member of the tandem in red and white shirts (9:5). The oldest player in the field at the Baku 2015 European Games, 41-year old Kubala continued to deliver a real show and an incredible rally where both he and Hadrava literally flew over the sand moved the score to 12:7. Hadrava further cemented their candidacy for the bronze medal with yet another ace and at 17:10 the Czechs were just four steps away from a historic podium finish. The 24-year old Hadrava claimed as many as six match balls (20:14), Strasser cancelled the first one with a terrific spike down the line but the Czech party could start a few moments later when the Swiss block served into the net (21-15).
“It feels just great, it’s unbelievable,” Hadrava said shortly after the match. “We did not expect to get this far in the tournament but we fought for every single point and we just played one match at a time. Of course we were quite disappointed after losing in the semis this morning but now the feelings are just good. We still do not know how we are going to celebrate, but we’ll surely find a way.”
“This is like a dream that came true. We were very determined and really wanted this medal. Our initial strategy was to serve at number two. But then we decided to change and to focus on number one and that was very successful,” Kubala said. “I finally made it and could win an international medal. This tournament meant a lot to me and now I can finish my career with a nice feeling. But nevertheless I still would like to try to qualify for Rio 2016. As far as our celebrations are concerned, we must let this sink in first. We only had plans on how to play this game, we had no plans at all for what was going to follow next.”