Fort Lauderdale, USA, February 7, 2017 – Japan will be back to the Olympic beach volleyball scene in Tokyo 2020, when the Asian country will host the Games for the second time in their history. After failing to qualify a team for the event for the first time last year, in Rio, the Japanese Federation trusted veteran Italian coach Marco Solustri the missions of leading their women’s tandems for the upcoming years.
A World Tour player during the 80ies and 90ies, the 57-year-old veteran possesses massive experience in the international stage, as he guided teams from Germany, Austria, Russia and Italy during the last Olympic quadrennials.Quick links - Beach volleyball:
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Japan came close to a podium placement in Sydney 2000, when Yukiko Takahashi and Mira Teru Saiki finished fourth, and the goal of the country is to be among the best again when competing at home in three years. The country has one team assured in each gender as the host nation, but plans to go further.
“We want to qualify two teams, but we also want them to be competitive”, says Solustri. “The Federation wants us to win medals. I believe we can be competitive, but it is really difficult to reach Brazil, Germany or the USA. If we could make it to the top five, it would be awesome. If something more comes, it will be great, but we have to be realistic.”
The Federation’s project was officially kicked off this week as Japan had four teams competing in the qualification tournament of the $600,000 Fort Lauderdale Major. Only two of them, Akiko Hasegawa/Azusa Futami and Sayaka Mizoe/Suzuka Hashimoto, are part of the programme. There is also a secondary project, sponsored by a private company, which sometimes integrates with the federation’s.
Asuza Futami is one of the Japanese players who are coached by Solustri
One of the pioneers of the European beach volleyball school, Solustri admits he is facing the biggest challenge of his career and that there will be a lot of new concepts to deal with while leading the Japanese.
“It is a big challenge for me, from many points of views. I loved the idea of coaching in Japan because of the discipline, the organisation and the respect they have there. There are some issues, as lack of flexibility and creativity, and, as an Italian coach, I try to bring these resources”, adds the coach.
“But the players are extremely disciplined and with discipline you can climb up mountains. The girls are always happy and motivated, so all I have to do is make them find the right path.”
One of Solustri’s biggest challenges developing the Japanese is to make them competitive despite their limited height compared to some of the top teams in the world. The Italian, who coached compatriots Laura Bruschini and Annamaria Solazzi to the gold medal in the 2000 European Championship, reveals some taller players are being prepared to join the skilled defenders the country traditionally produces.
“We are bringing some taller girls to the programme, but it is easy to notice that they have trouble with the ball control, so we have some work to do about it. The shorter players have a very good technical level, so we are trying to develop it on the blockers as well. It is interesting to coach short players because you need to really emphasize the defensive aspect of the game,” finishes Solustri.