The young Latvian athletes share their thoughts upon qualifying for their first World Tour Final Four
It has been a calm season so far for Latvia’s Anastasija Kravcenoka and Tina Graudina, at least mentally... While most other top-level beach volleyball teams have been competing on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour with Tokyo 2020 qualification in the back of their minds, Kravcenoka and Graudina secured their early-bird ticket to the Olympics back in 2019 at the Olympic qualification tournament in Haiyang.
Having the comfort of gearing their preparation towards Tokyo and relieved of the must-do-well pressure at the qualifying World Tour events, they have not only not lost any motivation on the Tour, but quite the opposite. In fact, at the star-studded 4-star tournament in Sochi this week, they reached the first World Tour Final Four of their careers.
“Our coaches are preparing us for Tokyo and that, of course, is our main goal,” 24-year-old Kravcenoka told Volleyball World after the Latvians defeated Canada’s Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson in one of the Sochi quarterfinals. “So we are not in the best shape right now...”
“... but we definitely feel progress with every game we play and that’s all that matters,” 23-year-old Graudina jumped in.
Ever since Anastasija and Tina joined forces, they have medalled at a number of high-level continental tournaments. They even triumphed as European champions in 2019 when they were only in their very early twenties and have already created a name for themselves as one of the big teams in the beach volleyball world. So it sounds a bit surprising that they have never reached the Final Four of a World Tour event. At least until this week, when they earned their place among the last four in Sochi, a precious confidence booster less than two months ahead of the big event of the year.
“Yes, that’s so much so!” exclaimed Graudina. “This is our first Final Four on the World Tour! We are so incredibly happy! Of course, we will play our best to show that we will be in Final Fours in the future as well. We will do as best as we can...”
“I don’t think it’s about confidence. I think it’s about joy right now. We had trained hard when the coronavirus hit in 2020. This year too... So I think we earned our place in this semifinal,” Kravcenoka added. “But the level is high and every team is so good that you can’t predict any match.”
While Latvia has had its fair share of success in men’s beach volleyball, including an Olympic bronze, Kravcenoka and Graudina will be their country’s first women’s duo to compete at the Games.
“Representing our country at the Olympics is the most enjoyable duty that we can have, so we want to represent Latvia very well. And I think doing well at these tournaments will directly translate to doing well in Tokyo too. So this is the road that we need to take to play well at the Olympics,” Tina said. “But I personally don’t think about Tokyo yet at all, because it’s still kind of far. We just take it day by day and we are thinking about medals right now.”
“Yes, we just take every game as valuable experience and we learn. We are young players and every match for us is something new,” Anastasija agreed. “So we are happy to play in every game at every tournament that we can. And it’s not only about the Olympics; we just want to be good players.”
Going forward, the young Latvians will continue to rely on the good cohesion they have within the team, but this week in Sochi they have had an extra weapon in the battles as the Russian fans on the stands seem to love them and are happy to express it loudly.
“We do complement each other and that indeed is our strongest weapon, because we are really good at different things, so we come together very well as one team. We don’t want to get into the technical stuff, but mentality-wise, this is the most important thing,” Tina said. “But I also want to thank all the fans who are supporting us! The love that we are getting here is just so amazing!”
“I think a lot of the fans here in Russia know us from the European Championship in Moscow and I can say Russia is a good event for us, every time...”