17/07/2018 21:02
Riikka Lehtonen and Niina Ahtiainen – 17 years apart, yet feeling like sisters
2018 CEV DELA Beach Volleyball European Championship

The Hague, The Netherlands, July 17, 2018. Riikka Lehtonen and Niina Ahtiainen were among the players standing out on Tuesday, as the women’s competition got underway at Sportcampus Zuiderpark in The Hague. The two Finns claimed two victories in as many matches they contested at #EuroBeachVolley – something that makes up for the rough start they had earlier this year, mainly because of injuries and bad luck.

There is an obvious age gap – Lehtonen being 38 and Ahtiainen 21 only – but Riikka and Niina seem to be getting along very well, almost as sisters do. “Riikka is not bossy at all, actually she is always very kind to me,” Ahtiainen acknowledges. “I do enjoy playing with her very much – it feels like being at school, since I learn something every day and with every session.”

The two started playing together at the end of 2017, but they did not have much time to do so. “Unfortunately, I was ill for about a month before the Major Series in Fourt Lauderdale and after that I twisted my ankle,” Lehtonen, Finland’s most successful Volleyball player in history, recalls. “After that, Niina injured her knee, so we did not have much time to practice together.” However, following their two wins in matches against opponents from Russia and Poland it did not look like this is only their eighth tournament together.

Lehtonen was somehow planning to retire at the end of the 2016 season, after she and former partner Taru Lahti failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics. However, the passion for the game was still there and she eventually continued for another year to play at the 2017 World Championship in Vienna. “I have to thank my coach for somehow pushing me to continue. After we failed to qualify for the Olympics, I thought that I was done with competitive sport. However, he convinced me that I should think carefully about it – since I had finally reached the necessary level of confidence and comfort when playing Beach Volleyball,” Lehtonen continues.

Niina Ahtiainen blocking in the pool matchup with Ksenia Dabizha/Daria Mastikova of Russia

She eventually played for one more year in 2017 – and decided to continue again, the plan being for her to stay with Ahtiainen until the end of 2018. “Initially we thought we would make turns, I mean that I would play with Taru as well while Niina would play some tournaments with Anniina Parkkinen. However, we eventually decided that it was better to stick with the same partner in order to grow and develop our game – slowly but surely. I am especially happy with today’s matches – not necessarily with the quality of our game, but with the two wins because that is exactly the good feeling that we have been missing lately,” Lehtonen says.

On Wednesday, Lehtonen/Ahtiainen will play against last year’s #EuroBeachVolley silver medal winners Kristyna Kolocova and Michala Kvapilova of Czech Republic. “I know them very well because I lived in the Czech Republic for three years and trained with them while playing with my former partner, Ida Sinisalo,” Ahtiainen says. She will have some time to brief her senior partner to make sure they develop the right tactics and will be up to the task. “For someone who is still so young, Niina is incredibly stable in her performance – and I especially liked the aggressiveness and confidence we showed towards the end of today’s second match,” Lehtonen concludes. Tomorrow will tell us whether the two Finns can continue their so far triumphal march in The Hague.

Elsewhere, Jolien Sinnema and Laura Bloem provided the Dutch audience with something to cheer about as they easily beat Ukraine’s Valentyna Davidova/Ievgeniia Shchypkova 2-0 (21-13, 21-11) in Pool C – where sisters Zoé and Anouk Vergé-Dépré teamed up to claim the Swiss derby with Nicole Eiholzer and Elena Steinemann 21-10, 21-17.

Samoilovs/Smedins and Bryl/Fijalek to fight for first place in men’s Pool G

Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins of Latvia have contested four of the last five #EuroBeachVolley gold medal matches – and they are obviously hungry for more success and glory. Only a couple of weeks ago, the Latvians claimed gold at the 4-Star event in Espinho and they travelled to the Netherlands with the boost of confidence they need to claim their fifth European Championship medal in six years.

“We obviously want to play for gold again,” Samoilovs acknowledged. “However, the level in Europe is incredibly high at the moment, so that 12 of the top 14 teams in the world are competing here. This means that the level of a European Championship is almost the same you would find at the World Championship. It makes the whole competition at lot more exciting though.”

A literally roaring Lion King as Aleksandrs Samoilovs celebrates his second victory in as many matches in The Hague

On Tuesday afternoon, Samoilovs and Smedins claimed their second victory in as many matches in Pool G, edging Lithuania’s Lukas Kazdailis and Arnas Rumsevicius 21-16, 22-20. The ‘Lion King’ and partner Smedins cancelled a set point for their opponents towards the end of the second set – and scored three times in a row to secure a 2-0 victory. “They are a good team but I think one of the two is having problems with his back, so that is why we tried to put some more pressure on him,” Samoilovs said. “Lukas and Arnas have improved a lot – and you can clearly see that they have been participating in a number of international tournaments. The game experience is what young players need to improve – especially since it is that very same experience that makes the difference in the end.”   

Kazdailis and Rumsevicius won bronze earlier this year at the inaugural Snow Volleyball European Championship held in Austria. What about Samoilovs playing on the snow as well? “Well, I may try it when the right time comes for it. As for now, let us focus on Beach Volleyball.”

On Thursday, after a day ‘off’, Samoilovs and Smedins will be playing Poland’s Michal Bryl and Grzegorz Fijalek for first place in the pool. Fijalek/Bryl recorded their second victory in as many matches in Pool G as they beat Germany’s only team in the tournament, Philipp Arne Bergmann and Yannick Harms 2-0.

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News nr. 22 of 43
17/07/2018 21:12:00
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17/07/2018 14:56:00
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