Photo: Jamie Broder and Kristina Valjas on April 26, 2015
Photo: Jamie Broder and Kristina Valjas on April 26, 2015

Beach teams take bullish attitude toward Olympic qualifications

With the sands of Brazil beckoning, things have never looked sunnier for Canada’s beach volleyball team.

Teams will qualify directly for Rio based on their spots in the FIVB Olympic Ranking as of June 13, and Canada could very well have four teams (two male, two female) make the cut. It’s the maximum number of teams any one nation can send to the Games, and it’s something Canada has never done before.

“Our teams are in the best position that they have ever been in, leading into an Olympic Games,” says Steve Anderson, head coach of Volleyball Canada’s beach program.

On the women’s side, the teams of Heather Bansley/Sarah Pavan and Jamie Broder/Kristina Valjas look set to qualify directly.

On the men’s side, the team of Ben Saxton/Chaim Schalk is similarly well positioned in the rankings, while the duo of Josh Binstock/Sam Schachter could qualify through the rankings or the Continental Cup later in June.

Teams can accumulate ranking points and solidify their spots at the Cincinnati Open (May 17-21), a Grand Slam event in Moscow (May 24-29) and an FIVB World Tour event in Hamburg (June 7-12).

Canada has one Olympic medal in beach volleyball, a bronze won by John Child and Mark Heese in the sport’s debut appearance at Atlanta 1996. And of the eight players pushing for spots in Rio, only Binstock has prior Olympic experience, having competed at London 2012 alongside Martin Reader.

But that history won’t deter this team; in fact, an attitude adjustment is one big part of Canada’s recent beach volleyball success.

Anderson, who became head coach three years ago, has worked hard to not only secure resources from Volleyball Canada and Own The Podium, but to instill a sense of confidence in the program.

“(Three years ago) I challenged everyone to take on the same belief and high standards that they themselves expect from Canadian hockey,” he says.

“At the time, I was laughed at; but through hard work, confronting our weaknesses, and redefining our culture, we are starting to believe that it is possible and that we are worthy.”