Lahti-Liukkonen and Ahtiainen claim Chiang Mai silver, also with support from the programme
Steven van de Velde and Matthew Immers of the Netherlands (pictured in the main photo), benefitting from FIVB Volleyball Empowerment assistance, topped the men’s podium at the Chiang Mai Challenge in Thailand on Sunday, earning their first Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour medal as a pair. Piotr Kantor and Jakub Zdybek of Poland took the silver, and the bronze went to Chase Budinger and Miles Evans of the United States.
A Volleyball Empowerment beneficiary also made it to the women’s podium. Finland’s Taru Lahti-Liukkonen and Niina Ahtiainen snatched the silver medal, finishing runners-up between winners Agatha Bednarczuk and Rebecca Cavalcanti of Brazil and third-placed Sarah Pavan and Molly McBain of Canada.
Niina Ahtiainen in Chinag Mai semifinal action
Dutch beach volleyball has been granted a total of CHF 144,000 in coach support, split in half between the two genders. Coached by Michiel van der Kuip, Van de Velde and Immers went through the tournament in Chiang Mai undefeated in their six matches, losing only a set throughout their campaign. This was not only their first Beach Pro Tour gold, but their first medal of any place as a team.
The fourth-seeded Dutch duo topped Pool D after a 2-0 (23-21, 21-17) opener against Austrian qualifiers Timo Hammarberg and Laurenc Grossig and a 2-0 (21-14, 28-26) pool final against Germany’s Lukas Pfretzschner and Sven Winter. In the eighthfinals, 29-year-old Van de Velde and 23-year-old Immers came back from a set down against Canada’s Daniel Dearing and Samuel Schachter to grab a 2-1 (16-21, 21-18, 15-7) victory, and then cruised on to the top of the podium with a 2-0 (21-18, 24-22) win over Lithuania’s Patrikas Stankevicius and Audrius Knasas in the quarterfinals, a 2-0 (21-19, 23-21) win over third-seeded Budinger and Evans in the semifinals and a 2-0 (21-16, 21-13) sweep of the final against Kantor and Zdybek.
31-year-old, two-time Olympian, Piotr Kantor and 28-year-old Jakub Zdybek also claimed their first Beach Pro Tour medal. The seventh-seeded Poles lost their opening match in Thailand and had a tough five-game journey to the final, in which four of the matches were won in deciding tie-breakers. In the semifinals, Kantor and Zdybek overcame Australia’s Izac Carracher and Mark Nicolaidis in a 2-1 (23-25, 21-19, 15-13) comeback.
After achieving a hard-fought 2-1 (27-25, 21-23, 15-9) victory over the Australians in the third-place match, 35-year-old Budinger and 34-year-old Evans picked up their third Beach Pro Tour medal, adding it to the Saquarema Challenge silver from April and the Haikou Challenge gold from two weeks ago.
The 2023 Chiang Mai Challenge men’s podium
Finland’s women’s beach volleyball has also been granted CHF 72,000 in coach support by Volleyball Empowerment. Mentored by coach Toni Vahela, 30-year-old Taru Lahti and 26-year-old Niina Ahtiainen persevered to success after a difficult journey in Chiang Mai. After losing their opening match in an overtime third set, the seventh-seeds managed to win the next four matches, also in tie-breakers, to reach the final. In the semifinal, they produced a tight 2-1 (21-19, 20-22, 15-13) victory over China’s Dong Jie and Wang Fan to secure their third Beach Pro Tour medal, after the 2022 Maldives Challenge gold and the 2023 Helsinki Futures gold.
In the final, the Finns were defeated by top-seeded Agatha Bednarczuk and Rebecca Cavalcanti of Brazil. 40-year-old two-time Olympian, Rio 2016 silver medallist and 2015 world champion Bednarczuk and 30-year-old Olympian Cavalcanti dominated in Thailand and mastered six straight-set victories on the way to the top of the podium. In the semifinals, the Brazilians celebrated a 2-0 (21-16, 22-20) win over fourth-seeded Pavan and McBain and, in the final, they delivered a 2-0 (21-17, 21-16) sweep to snatch their first Beach Pro Tour gold and second overall medal, after the Espinho Challenge bronze earlier this year.
Another former world champion and two-time Olympian, 37-year-old Sarah Pavan, and her current teammate, 25-year-old Molly McBain picked up their first medal on the Tour after a 2-1 (15-21, 21-16, 15-9) comeback against Dong and Wang for the bronze.
The 2023 Chiang Mai Challenge women’s podium
A total of 85 teams representing 27 different countries took part in the Chiang Mai Challenge.