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09/01/2016 15:48
Young Red Dragon enjoyed learning experience at European Olympic Qualifier
2016 European Olympic Qualification - Men

Berlin, Germany, January 9, 2016. Europe’s top teams have been competing this week at the men’s European Olympic Qualifier in Berlin and the fans have been provided with something to cheer about by some of the sport’s most accomplished stars. They include 40-year-old Russian legend Sergey Tetyukhin, a gold medallist at London 2012, who is hoping to make it to the Olympics again later this summer. At the other end of the spectrum, Belgian middle blocker Arno Van de Velde turned 20 only ten days ago and is the youngest player competing in Berlin.

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To put it into perspective, Tetyukhin won gold at the CEV U20 Volleyball European Championship in 1994, more than a year before Van de Velde was born.

“That sounds really impressive indeed,” Van de Velde commented after being made aware of these facts. The young middle blocker did not play in Berlin when the Red Dragons lost three matches in a row in Pool A, but the tournament has been quite an experience for him. “I do not have any regrets as I know that I am not yet ready to perform at this level, but it has been a great experience, especially since I could watch and follow some of the best players in the world.”

His idol is Dmitriy Muserskiy, but Van de Velde has used the tournament as a real learning opportunity. “While being here, I have been observing the other teams’ star players and apart from Muserskiy, who unfortunately is not here, I also quite like Karol Klos from Poland and Marko Podrascanin from Serbia. There are many good players in this position and as I still have a lot to improve, I am trying to take a little bit from each one of them and use it for my own future development.”

Van de Velde has enjoyed success on the international stage with two bronze medals from the 2012 and 2013 CEV Junior and Youth Volleyball European Championships, respectively, which were held in Gdynia, Poland and in Laktasi, Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, it still takes a lot of effort and hard work to confirm these results at the senior level. “I think Belgium still have a young team and there is a lot of room for improvement. It is not so easy to repeat what we did in other age groups because the competition is much tougher with the seniors. In a youth or junior tournament, you have a group of players from the same class and all teams mostly rely on two, maybe three good players who score most of the points. At senior level it does not work this way and you could see it clearly here in Berlin where eight world-class teams, all packed with star players, have been competing for one ticket to the Olympics,” Van de Velde acknowledged.

The young Red Dragon is hoping to stay on the roster for the next major international events that will follow this year, including the 2016 World League where Belgium will make their debut in Group 1. However, for the time being his focus will be on the club season. “I am playing for Knack ROESELARE back home in Belgium and since we are the national champions, we definitely want to retain our title this year. We have qualified for the final of the national cup which is a very big event in Belgium attracting 10,000 fans, and this stands on top of my list right now because the competition will be played on February 14. We also have another two matches to play in the group stage of the CEV Volleyball Champions League, so I have a busy schedule ahead and I am setting the bar quite high together with my team,” the still shy and reserved Van de Velde said.

At 20 there is still much time to continue to dream about the Olympics as Arno’s professional career has almost just started. In four years the Red Dragons will be more experienced and certainly a force to be reckoned with on the road to Tokyo where they will be hoping to make their first Olympic appearance since the 1968 Games in Mexico City.

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