Beach volleyball players around the world are gearing up for the 2012 Olympic Games.
A number of them were here recently for the fourth staging of the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation tour opener on Grand Cayman’s Public Beach.
Among them was Erick Haddock, who teamed up with Roberto Rodriguez to claim the men’s gold medal for Puerto Rico. Haddock states his sights are on London this summer.
“We have a good chance of qualifying,” Haddock said. “We have a couple of events before the Olympics. We have to work hard now and go into tournaments with more confidence. It was a good accomplishment here to start the year.”
Haddock and Rodriguez were one of some 42 teams representing 16 countries. The duo bested Canada’s Samuel Schachter and Maverick Hatch 2-0 (21-19, 21-15) for their first tournament win on these shores.
Hatch, 24, is an Olympic hopeful who states he is confident about an Olympic berth.
“We still need to qualify for London,” Hatch said. “We’re going to Los Angeles for the International Volleyball Federation Tour before going to Brazil in April. We will qualify through the Continental Cup. There are decent teams that compete and a lot of good teams that battle. We can star in that and Canada is fairly competent in NORCECA and keeps competitive. We’re building towards the same level on the world tour.”
The NORCECA Continental Cup finals are slated to take place in Nayarit, Mexico on 19-23 June. Canada will have its male and female teams against top Central American sides Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and regional powers Cuba, Mexico and Puerto Rico for a London 2012 berth.
Prior to that, all of the teams that were in Cayman will make numerous stops for the NORCECA tour. Locales include Guatemala on 30 March-1 April, Boca Chica, Dominican Republic on 6-8 April, Miami, Florida on 4-6 May, Colima, Mexico on 11-13 May, Chiapas, Mexico on 18-20 May and the state of Mexico on 26-28 May along with Varadero, Cuba on 8-10 June.
In all, 23 teams will compete in the London Olympics alongside host nation Great Britain. Five sides can qualify through the Continental Cup, 16 through a top Olympic ranking as of 17 June and two squads through the World Cup finals at the end of June.
Haddock and Hatch were among the players who gave glowing reviews of Cayman. Both stated they enjoyed their experience here.
“It was incredible, it was my third time here for the tournament,” Haddock said. “We wanted to win and finally got to win. The spot is great and the people here really support us. A lot of people say it’s great to play in Cayman and that is true.”
“It was amazing, it definitely felt like home,” Hatch said. “It is the best stop on the NORCECA tour. We are so confident and comfortable to play here.”
Many of the lady spikers also were pleased with Cayman. One of them was Mayra Garcia, who partnered with Bibiana Candelas to win the women’s gold medal 2-0 (21-6, 21-19) over fellow Mexicans Marta Revueltas and Vanessa Virgen.
Garcia states she left with a good first impression.
“It was my first time in this tournament,” Garcia said. “The heat and sun were intense but we made a good job. I’m thankful for the organization of it and all of the people who supported us all the time we were here. The best thing was we won and it was the perfect tournament for us and our country. The organization, the level of players and the country were all beautiful.
“We’ve been training for the Olympic qualifier and now we’ll be headed to Brazil and China for the Swatch FIVB World Tour.”
For the record, Cayman had a good showing as host nation. Shervin Rankin and Richard Campbell put the country through to the quarterfinals after finishing second in Pool A behind eventual winners Puerto Rico. From there, they would lose to Dominican Republic youngsters German Recio and Luis Adames.
The other male tandems of Philippe Deslandes and Duncan Hamann along with Andrew Gordon and Olney Thompson were eliminated during group play. The lady pair of Jennifer Bily and Cristin Alexander were knocked out in the preliminary stages by El Salvador.