Setting up for another September success is Italian Olympian Paolo Nicolai.
Rome, Italy, August 26, 2019 - September events have been good for Paolo Nicolai and the two-time Italian Olympian is hoping for continued success in the ninth month when he and Daniele Lupo start competing here next week at the 2019 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Finals.
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With the main draw rounds for the $600,000 FIVB World Tour Finals starting on September 5 at the Foro Italico sports complex, Nicolai has never finished lower than third at FIVB beach volleyball events in the ninth month and has claimed podium positions at tournaments in Bermuda, Italy, England and Russia by winning 26 of 30 matches with two different partners.
Paolo Nicolai (left) and Francesco Giontella celebrate a gold medal win at the 2007 FIVB Under-21 World Championships in Modena, Italy
"That is news to me," said a surprised Nicolai when told about his September successes. “I hope the trend will continue for me next month! It will be difficult as this year’s event is more important, in some respects, as compared to the other September events. This September’s event features better and more experienced teams. The World Tour Finals is also part of the qualifying process for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with major points to be earned."
With 111 appearances at FIVB events since 2006, the 31-year-old Nicolai has finished second, first, first and third in four September tournaments highlighted by two Under-21 World Championship gold medals with Francesco Giontella in 2007 and 2008 where the pair won 13 of 14 matches by defeating teams from Spain and the Netherlands in the finals.
Nicolai's other September successes were a second with Giontella at the 2006 Under-19 World Championships in Bermuda and a third at a 2015 FIVB World Tour event in Russia where he and Lupo defeated Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Konstantin Semenov of Russia for the bronze medal.
Eleven months later, Nicolai and Lupo defeated the Russia pair in the semifinals at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Two nights later Copacabana, the Italians claimed the silver medal after losing the Summer Games finale to Alison Cerutti and Bruno Oscar Schmidt of Brazil.
Paolo Nicolai (left) and Daniele Lupo with their Rio 2016 Olympic silver medals
"The Rio semifinal was such an important match," Nicolai noted, "as we earned a spot on the Olympic podium. The silver medal won in Rio is still today the greatest emotion I experienced through sport. We train hard every day to live moments like that."
As his country's most decorated beach volleyball performer, Nicolai is the only Italian men's or women's player to participate in the previous five FIVB World Tour events in Rome at the Foro Italico. In events in Rome that were held twice in May and three times in June, Nicolai has finished fifth, 17th, ninth, 25th and ninth with three different partners.
Nicolai and Matteo Varnier posted their country’s best men’s finish in Rome at the inaugural event in the Italian capital with a fifth place in 2009. The pair’s 2010 appearance in Rome brought disappointment as Varnier dislocated his right shoulder during the event that ended his FIVB career on the sand. However, Varnier has continued his relationship with Nicolai as his coach.
Paolo Nicolai (right) with FIVB partners Matteo Varnier (left) and Francesco Giontella
"Matteo has accompanied my whole career," said Nicolai. "First as an example, then as a teammate and today as a coach. He was such a great player, but unfortunately, a serious injury impacted his career. I am very happy that he is leading our team."
The World Tour’s best offensive player in 2014 and best blocker in 2016, Nicolai ranks second behind Andrea Raffaelli (121) in FIVB appearances for Italian men. Nicolai has compiled a 316-194 World Tour match mark with three gold medals, 21 podium placements, 24 final four finishes and 41 quarterfinal appearances.
Nicolai made his World Tour debut in 2008 with Giontella at an Italian event in Roseto degli Abruzzi where the pair played eventual Beijing Olympic champions Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers in their first match. Four-plus years later at the London 2012 Olympics, Nicolai and Lupo defeated Dalhausser and Rogers to eliminate the defending Summer Games champions.
"I remember both games very well," Nicolai said about the 2008 Roseto degli Abruzzi Tour and London 2012 matches. "Phil and Todd were the team I learned from by playing against them on the sand and watching them on video. Even today, if I have to say who my favourite team was, I have no doubt that they are mine."
Paolo Nicolai (left) blocking against American Todd Rogers at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The partnership with Lupo has been Italy’s most successful men’s and women’s pairing. Nicolai and Lupo have posted a 285-142 match mark together on the World Tour highlighted by back-to-back gold medal finishes at FIVB events in China at Fuzhou and Shanghai. The pair also captured European titles in 2014, 2016 and 2017.
"Playing events in Rome has always been a great thrill for me," said Nicolai, who has compiled an 11-11 match mark in five appearances at the Foro Italico. "Playing in front of your family, friends and fans is special. After playing in so many events in other countries, it is great to play where the crowds will be supporting us to help us to play our best!"