This is the real Olympics. The Beach Volleyball World Championships in Vienna, Austria this week is the event that beach volleyball fans worldwide point to as the true barometer of the best team in the world, because it objectively is.
Of course, the vast majority of “beach volleyball fans” only tune in once every four years, much the way “swimming fans” and “gymnastics fans” and “track fans” do every four summers before they return to their regularly scheduled programming of football, basketball, 9-5 jobs and PTA meetings.
But those of us who truly care about the sport, and those who play beach volleyball, know that the Beach Volleyball World Championships is the best measuring stick for not just each individual team, but it’s a sort of State of the Beach Volleyball Union for each country as well.
The Olympics are great because they put beach volleyball into the limelight for a few weeks, and the world’s best teams are typically featured on the podium. But it’s not deep in the sense that the Beach Volleyball World Championships are.
Only two teams per country are allowed to compete in the Olympics, which seems like a fine rule until you realize that in 2008, the United States featured four teams — Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers, Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal, Casey Jennings and Matt Fuerbringer, Mark Williams and Stein Metzger — in the top 24. Brazil had five — five! — in the top 22. Germany boasted three in the top 11.
Half of the top 24 teams on the planet hailed from three countries, and only half of those teams were able to compete in the Olympic Games, making room for countries like Georgia, Angola, and Estonia, among a few other countries that are, well, not Brazil or America or Germany.
This is not the case with the Beach Volleyball World Championships, which allows for four teams per country, ensuring that, for the most part, Brazil, the U.S., Germany, Italy, and various other global volleyball powers will not be forced to leave a top-30 team at home.
And when you look at the bracket for this year’s Beach Volleyball World Championships, you begin to realize just how staggeringly high the level of play is when nobody is left at home.
Make way for the new Brazil
For the past few years, beach volleyball fans have rightfully been enchanted by Alison and Bruno, the 2015 Beach Volleyball World Champs — one of the single best finals you’ll ever see, against Christiaan Varenhorst and Reinder Nummerdor — and 2016 Olympic gold medalists. Bruno has been awarded the best defensive player four years in a row, and Jake Gibb once said of Alison: “Nobody digs that guy.”
It’s true: Alison has been named the world’s best hitter three times, in 2011, 2012 and 2016.
But there’s a new Brazilian team in town, one that I’m pretty sure not all of the YouTube videos in cyberspace could satiate my desire to watch. Alvaro Filho and Saymon Barbosa Santos are 23 and 26 years old, respectively, and they’re the No. 1 seed in the most talent-rich beach volleyball tournament the world has to offer.
Combined, they’re barely older than John Hyden.
In their first tournament together, in Fort Lauderdale to open the season, they began in the qualifier and proceeded to win seven consecutive matches without dropping a set to take home the gold. Not a single set! In a Grand Slam! Coming out of the qualifier! The absurdity of that cannot be overstated.
They’ve stumbled a little since, but how could they not? It was a wild precedent to set, winning a grand slam right out of the gates. Their past five tournaments have featured finishes of 9th, 9th, 17th, 3rd, and 25th. Regardless, I like them coming out of the top half of the bracket, and yes, I fully acknowledge that Varenhorst and partner Maarten Van Gaarden could absolutely topple them in straight sets in the first round.
That’s the beauty of such an enormously talented field: Things could, and likely will, get crazy.
It helps, however, that Alvaro and Saymon are the one seed, and being the one seed, they don’t have to slug their way past countrymen Alison and Bruno; Canadians Ben Saxton and Chaim Schalk; the Chilean Grimalts; Ryan Doherty and the ageless Hyden; the positively thrilling Latvians, Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins. Truthfully, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if any of those teams — well, the Grimalts winning would be a bit of a shocker — returned with gold in hand.
It wouldn’t surprise me if, four years from now in Tokyo, any one of those teams is standing atop the podium, gold in hand.
Red, White, Blue — and gold
My initial reaction upon seeing the bottom half of the bracket is that it’s massively unfortunate that Americans Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb will, barring something strange, play one another in the second round. Dalhausser and Lucena are ranked No. 2 in the world; Crabb and Gibb 17. But, such is the fickle matter of tournament draws, and if their clash in the Long Beach semifinals was any indicator, it will, at the very least, provide another bout of excellent volleyball.
I’d like to say Dalhausser and Lucena are heavy favorites to make it out of their half, but goodness gracious, that is one top-heavy bracket. Nobody can rightfully be deemed “heavy favorites.” Not only will they have Crabb and Gibb, they’ll also more than likely meet Italian 2016 Olympic silver medalists Nicolai and Lupo in the following round, which will more than likely precede a meeting with the No. 1 ranked team in the world, Russians Viacheslav Krailnikov and Nikita Liamin, whom they played for gold in Moscow in early June.
Whoever makes it out of that half, congratulations. That’s no small accomplishment. Not that the bottom half isn’t loaded, but Casey Patterson and Theo Brunner: This is your time.
Yes, the Austrians, Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst, Patterson and Brunner’s first round matchup, are good — everybody in this tournament is good. But above them, the video game team of Piotr Kantor and Bartosz Losiak will have to go through Dutch Olympians Alexander Brower and Robert Meeuwsen, a match of medal proportions. The quarterfinals are the first match that, in my admittedly not so expert opinion, Patterson and Brunner will play a team that is equal to or better than them, and even then, I’d call it a 50-50 split.
In the semis, who knows. Nothing I ever write will doubt Dalhausser and Lucena even in the slightest, and I won’t start here.
My championship match is Americans Dalhausser and Lucena vs. Brazilians Alvaro and Saymon.
And the red, white and blue is bringing home the gold.
Another not so expert opinion…
My good friend and regular CBVA partner Jorge Martinez volunteered a bracket of his own, because we’re volleynerds and this is what we do. Take a look at who he has going far. And if you want to send me a bracket before any event, I’d love to nerd out with out as well: email@example.com.
Catch more coverage of the Beach Volleyball World Championships with our good friends at VolleyballMag.com.