Sam O'Dea (left) and Griffin Muller net New Zealand's first ever FIVB World Tour gold medal.
Rarotonga, Cook Islands, January 17, 2020 - New Zealand now has a gold medal winning team on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour as Griffin Muller and Sam O'Dea posted a pair of wins here Friday over teams from the United States to capture the gold medal at the inaugural VolleyFest Cook Islands.
In the seventh event on the 2019-2020 FIVB World Tour men's calendar, the seventh-seeded Muller and O'Dea posted a 2-1 (21-14, 20-22, 15-7) win in 52 minutes over ninth-seeded Americans Christopher Austin/Earl Schultz to secure the milestone gold medal win for New Zealand while collecting the US$1,000 first-place prize.
Muller and O'Dea also became the 12th men's team to win a World Tour event together in their first FIVB start as the Kiwi pair was the first New Zealand men's or women's team to play in a gold medal match on the international beach volleyball circuit that was staging event No. 465 for men.
After winning two pool play matches on Wednesday and an elimination contest on Thursday, Muller and O'Dea opened the Friday schedule by defeating filth-seeded Travis Mewhirter/Adam Roberts of the United States in the second semifinals.
Austin and Schultz, who split $700 for their silver medal finish, advanced to the finals with a three-set win against third-seeded qualifiers Hitoshi Murakami/Takashi Tsuchiya of Japan. Austin and Schultz where playing in their second World Tour event after failing to qualify for the FIVB main draw in November at Doha, Qatar.
Americans Christopher Austin (centre) and Earl Schultz (right) with a VolleyFest Cook Islands presenter
In the bronze medal match, Mewhirter and the 43-year-old Roberts posted a 2-0 (21-18, 22-20) win in 43 minutes over Murakami and Tsuchiya, who placed fourth in the 2019-2020 season opening event in Iran last October at Bandar Torkaman. The Americans shared $500 for placing third with Murakami and Tsuchiya splitting $400.
Prior to the Friday finish, the best placement by a New Zealand men's team were bronze medals at events in 2008 (Kristiansand, Norway by Jason Lochhead/Kirk Pitman) and 2017 (Shepparton, Australia by Ben/Sam O’Dea). The best finish by a New Zealand women's team was a third by Shaunna Marie Polley/Kelsie Wills at a July 2017 event in Ulsan, Korea.
Austin and Schultz were seeking to win the United States' 78th gold medal on the FIVB World Tour since the start of international beach volleyball play in February 1987. The Americans were also seeking the second gold medal for the United States this season after Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb topped the podium at November's stop in Chetumal, Mexico.
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The next men's FIVB World Tour event takes place February 20-23 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The first women's event during the 2020 calendar year is set for February 6-9 in Siem Reap, Cambodia.