Vienna, Austria, August 1, 2018 – For several beach volleyball teams, inspiration comes from the outside. For Evgeniya Ukolova and Ekaterina Birlova, however, the example of the team they want to be rests on their own past as after six seasons together and one with different partners, the Russians are reunited again in the FIVB World Tour.
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Between 2011 and 2016, Ukolova and Birlova formed the top team of their country, having played in 49 international tournaments and won seven medals, including two golds. After two Olympic appearances, the Europeans went in different directions in 2017, but ended up reunited again this season.
“Our coach decided we should split after the Rio Games,” Ukolova commented. “I had a back injury in the start of last season and a few months later I had shoulder surgery, so I didn’t really play much. It’s really nice to be with Ekaterina again. We had a year when we could rest a little bit more and now we have a nice situation to play. She helped me a lot when I wasn’t in good shape.”
This week the team is competing at the $600,000 A1 Major Vienna presented by Swatch, their first five-star event together in two years. And since they reunited again, the Russians have been doing well, as they had top-10 finishes in all but one of the six tournaments they played at, including a bronze medal at the one-star Anapa Open, in the start of July.
It was the fifth-place they got at the European Championships two weeks ago, however, what encouraged the veterans to keep dreaming about their futures together.
“To be honest, we were a little bit surprised with that result,” Ukolova acknowledged. “It was the first time we were playing at such a high level because we were only playing on national tour and one and two-star events. I’m glad we showed our level. Of course when we get that far we expect the best, but it was a good result for us. It’s like starting from the bottom, but we are in a good way.”
Their ultimate goal is to compete in their third Olympics together. However, after finishing ninth at London 2012 and fifth at Rio 2016, they want to fight for medals in Tokyo 2020.
“That’s our goal,” Ukolova added. “This season is nearing the end and we want to be in good form for the two last events in China when Olympic qualification starts. I think we’re ready to finally show some result in the Olympics, not just to play. The first time is always harder, but now being our third, we believe we can do better.”