Aleksandrs Samoilovs, Janis Smedins and Martins Plavins have been the ring-leaders of the Latvian successes on the FIVB World Tour since 2005 as each started playing internationally years earlier at youth Beach Volleyball events. The trio have combined to play in 368 World Tour events as each has played with the other on the FIVB circuit.
Friday morning it was Samoilovs and Smedins being challenged by Plavins and 24-year old Haralds Regza in a Pool B match on an indoor court at the Sportcampus Zuiderpark where the winning team secured a first-round “bye” when elimination bracket play starts later Friday with the loser returning to the sand later in the day for an opening “knock-out” match.
The second-seeded Samoilovs and Smedins earned the victory by posting a 2-1 (13-21, 21-17, 15-10) win in 40 minutes over the 15th-seeded Plavins and Regza. It was the fourth meeting between the two teams with the 32-year old Samoilovs and the 29-year old Smedins winning each time, including a bronze medal victory at the 2015 Xiamen Open in China.
Latvians in action Friday (left to right) - Haralds Regza, Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins
“We were close to winning this time,” said Plavins. “It was a bit different for us playing inside, because the last time we did meet was in January, before Fort Lauderdale. It's different because there's no wind, seems the ball flies faster. It's harder to play. But that counts for both sides.”
However, it was Smedins’ bronze medal performance with the 32-year old Plavins at the London 2012 Olympics that produced the biggest achievement for Latvia in Beach Volleyball. It was the pair’s only podium placement in 24 FIVB events together as Smedins and Plavins defeated legendary Dutchmen Reinder Nummerdor and Richard Schuil for the London bronze.
Martins Plavins (center) and Janis Smedins being interviewed following their bronze medal finish at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“The Olympics was a good tournament for us,” Smedins said with a grin on his face. “For all Latvia. It was a big thing winning the bronze medal. But now things changed and we are trying to get some similar successes.”
Plavins said “my main goal in my career was winning an Olympic medal. I did that, so now I have a different life where sports are not in the first place anymore. I have a wife and three kids. I practice in the morning. I wouldn't say I am a top professional player anymore, but I still have a lot of fun playing. That's why I am here. So, I am planning to play a few more years. I don't know how many, but I think until my daughters start playing and I can be their coach. So now I am just having a lot of fun and I enjoy playing with my new partner. We did good at the European championships in 2015, so I am satisfied.
The foundation for Smedins and Plavins’ Summer Games success came a year earlier when the pair posted a fourth-place finish at the 2017 FIVB World Championships in Rome as the Latvians lost a three-set bronze medal match to eventual London winners Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann of Germany.
Martins Plavins celebrates at the 2011 FIVB World Championships
The Plavins/Samoilovs partnership from 2005-2008 “sparked” the flame of Beach Volleyball in Latvia by winning the gold medal at the 2005 FIVB under-21 world championships on Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro before entering the World Tour the next season that led to an appearance in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Martins Plavins (left) and Aleksandrs Samoilovs after winning FIVB under-21 world championships in 2005
While never placing on a FIVB World Tour podium, Plavins and Samoilovs’ highlight was upsetting eventual 2008 Olympic champions Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers of the United States in the first Beijing match for both teams. The Latvians won their Olympic pool and finished ninth in the Summer Games while Dalhausser and Rogers recovered to win Beijing gold with six-straight wins.
Aleksandrs Samoilovs (center) celebrates with Martins Plavins (right) after defeating Americans Phil Dalhausser (left) and Todd Rogers at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
With three Latvian teams scheduled to compete next month in the 2017 FIVB World Championships in Vienna, Plavins said it was a “huge success” for his country to have that many pairs in the tournament. “I think Janis and Sacha (Samoilovs) will be among the top seeds in Vienna, so they will have a good chance to be successful. Haralds and I will try to beat some good teams, so that's why we are going to all World Tours events to prepare for the world champs and for European championships which are held in Latvia.”
For Smedins, it is important to win a world championship medal. “Latvia won an Olympic medal, but never placed on the podium at the world championships. Martins and I were close in 2011, but all we got was a 'wood' medal. It will be tough, everybody will be ready and more focused. It's good we have three teams from Latvia, it will increase our chances.”
Samoilovs and Smedins have had the most success together on the international circuit as the pair has captured nine gold medals and netted 18 podium placements in 52 FIVB World Tour events. In 2013 and 2014, Samoilovs and Smedins finished the season as the top team on the world rankings.