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16/08/2017 11:00
Eight years on, European champion Jursone remains a role model to look up to
2017 CEV Beach Volleyball European Championship - Final

Jurmala, Latvia, August 16, 2017. Back in 2009, Inese Jursone and Inguna Minusa made history for Latvia as they claimed gold from the European Championship Final held in Sochi, Russia. Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins matched this result in 2015 when they won men’s gold in Klagenfurt, but Jursone’s and Minusa’s achievement remains a truly historic one for the country hosting this year’s #EuroBeachVolley Final.

It has been eight years since that day and the relatively shy and introvert Jursone still has fond memories from that experience. “I remember that the weather was great and it was a sunny day in many ways for us. The venue where the tournament took place was a great one, and we beat Laura Ludwig and Sara Goller in the final, so we could not have asked for more than that.”

Inese’s achievement came well before Latvia turned into a real Beach Volleyball ‘Mecca’ thanks to Samoilovs/Smedins and Martins Plavins as well. “Back then, many people from the Volleyball family acknowledged this outstanding result and we were pleased with their reaction and feedback,” Jursone recalls. “However, we did not make the headlines all over the country and there were no commercials or special adverts featuring us following that championship title.”

Minusa has since retired from competitive sport and earlier this week travelled to Taipei with the Latvian national team participating in the 2017 Universiade – Jursone, on the other hand, is still playing and took the court on Wednesday morning along with her current partner Ance Auzina, eventually losing in two sets to Germany’s Victoria Bieneck and Isabel Schneider.

Jursone had announced last year plans to put an end to her competitive career; however, the perspective of a home European Championship Final persuaded her to continue for one more season. Partner Auzina acknowledges: “As far as I am concerned, this is my very first European Championship Final and it is a dream come true to be able to compete here.” “We did not know whether we would be able to play here because we do not have enough ranking points, but after the Latvian Federation told us we would try to make the cut via a wild card, I decided I would not stop playing and carry on at least until this tournament,” Jursone added.

Back in 2009, when Jursone and Minusa won European gold, Beach Volleyball was not yet as popular as it is now in Latvia. “It is definitely growing a lot, especially in terms of mass participation,” Auzina stresses. “Many people are playing Beach Volleyball even just for fun and they do it almost all year round, especially since as many as three indoor halls are now available in Latvia to practice and play in winter as well. Unfortunately, our summer is quite short, and especially this year we have had many rainy and cold days.”

In terms of future perspectives, Auzina and Jursone advocate for the national authorities to provide more support to players, so that they can focus entirely on the game. “At this stage we probably have only three professional teams in Latvia, including Graudina/Kravcenoka. If we want to have more teams competing at the highest level, there is a clear need for more support from the Latvian Federation and the Olympic Committee, so that players do not have to combine their commitments at work with a sporting career,” they say. “On the other hand, we are confident that mass participation in Beach Volleyball will continue to grow – since the game has never been as popular as it is now.”

Jursone and Auzina will now try to soak up to the fullest the unique experience of playing a European Championship Final on home sand – with Jursone enjoying an additional boost from what Latvian rising star Tina Graudina recently said, stressing that Inese remains the best partner she has played with… Despite her young age, Graudina is already an U18 and U22 European champion – and she very much hopes that one day she will be able to emulate Jursone’s historic achievement from that sunny day in Sochi.

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