Men’s Pool F – Aiming to Upgrade from Silver to Gold

The Olympic beach volleyball tournament is just two hours from getting underway and this is the final installment of the Beach Volley Blog’s Olympic preview series. Hosts Japan are joined by three European heavyweights. Yusuke “Gottsu” Ishijima & Katsuhiro Shiratori play hosts to Julius Thole & Clemens Wickler, Daniele Lupo & Paolo Nicolai and Piotr Kantor & Bartosz Losiak. The Germans won a silver medal at the last World Championships and the Italians took silver at the last Olympics. Nobody wants to finish second best in Tokyo.

Thole extends his arms over the net to make a block at the Hamburg World Championships in 2019. Photo by FIVB.

The following table shows wins and losses against the other teams in the group during the qualification period.

Katsuhiro & Gottsu Thole & Wickler Nicolai & Lupo Kantor & Losiak
Katsuhiro & Gottsu X 0-0 0-0 0-0
Thole & Wickler 0-0 X 0-2 0-0
Nicolai & Lupo 0-0 2-0 X 3-0
Kantor & Losiak 0-0 0-0 0-3 X

*Statistics in the graphics below include International and Continental events sanctioned by the FIVB between September 1, 2018 and June 30, 2021. This includes all rounds of the Continental Cups and the Olympic Qualification Tournament. Domestic tournaments are not included.

Yusuke “Gottsu” Ishijima & Katsuhiro Shiratori

Photo by FIVB.

I won’t pretend to know much about this team, but that doesn’t mean I can’t love them. Katsuhiro Shiratori’s long career is being rewarded with a place at his home country’s Olympics. Shiratori is 44 years old and played his first international beach volleyball tournament in 1999. He has already represented Japan in the Olympics back in 2008. He finished 9th that time. He is joined by Yusuke Ishijima (37) who played indoor volleyball at the same Olympics in China.

These two played together at the Tokyo four-star in 2019 that served as a warm-up for the Olympics. They lost three pool play matches there, but nearly beat two Olympic teams. It took Bryl & Fijalek and Brouwer & Meeusen each an hour to get past these guys. The scores of those matches lets you know how much these guys battle. Poland barely escaped with a 23-21, 18-21, 14-16 win. The match against the Dutchies finished 21-19, 33-35, 10-15. They have a 0 -2 record against fellow Olympians during the Olympic quad, but those are the two matches. By the looks of it, they can deliver a big surprise in Pool F, so the other teams better come ready to play.

They are at the Olympics because they won the Japanese trials in early June. They were not the number one seeds, but once they could smell the Olympic prize, they were light years ahead of the rest. In the semifinal they won 21-9, 21-7 and in the final they made sure the Olympic torch was theirs with a 21-12, 21-6 win. You rarely see scores like that in at any level.

Julius Thole & Clemens Wickler

Photo by FIVB.

Thole and Wickler are part of the European youth movement that is sweeping over the beach volleyball world. Surprisingly, they are yet to stand on top of the podium together at an international event. (The gold medal listed in the results on the graphic above are for an early round victory in the Continental Cup). Their best tournament was the second place finish in Hamburg at the 2019 World Championships. They had a memorable three-set semifinal win over Mol and Sorum that thrilled the home fans before dropping a three setter to Krasilnikov & Stoyanovskiy in the final.

They didn’t have many chances to win gold in 2021 as they suffered a series of setbacks. Their troubles started with Wickler’s appendicitis which kept him out of Cancun, then Thole’s ankle injury ruled him out of Sochi and Ostrava. Everything seems to be OK for them now, and I’m sure they can’t think of a better place to win their first gold together.

Thole is already very tall but his block is further aided by extraordinarily long arms. It is amazing to see how far over the net he reaches when browsing through the photos on the FIVB’s website. Clemens Wickler is an explosive jumper that crushes the ball in side out and in transition.

This is a nice highlight package from the World Championships that the FIVB put together.

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Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo

Photo by FIVB.

Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo are not old by any means, but it feels like they have been around forever. They are just 30 and 32 years old, respectively, but they have already played 100 international tournaments together. They won gold medals in seven of those, including the Olympic Qualification tournament in Haiyang, China. That is officially why they are in Tokyo, but they had more than enough success on the World Tour to make the top 15 of the Olympic rankings. The biggest medal they have ever won was silver at the Rio Olympics. In Rio they lost twice in pool play and had to play through the Lucky Losers match.

The last few years have not been the best of their career but they have still been very solid. They have only finished outside of the top 10 once since the summer of 2018. The have fallen in the quarterfinals 12 times in their last 20 tournaments. That is a lot of fifth place finishes.

Piotr Kantor & Bartosz Losiak

Photo by FIVB.

How can these guys be the lowest seed in an Olympic pool? They have had a very good 2021, including a gold medal in Sochi last May. They started 2021 in 18th place and outside of the Tokyo places. Six tournaments later, they were in 13th and heading to their second Olympic games. The rest of the beach volleyball world can thank them for breaking the Beachvolleyball Viking’s spell. Piotr and Bartosz were the first team to beay Anders Mol and Christian Sorum in more than a year and a half when they beat them in Sochi pool play.

In Rio they were eliminated in the lucky losers round by Italians Nicolai and Lupo. The two teams meet again in the final match of pool F in Tokyo.

Kantor and Losiak were pioneers of the up tempo beach volleyball game. A lot of teams run quick sets and move the blocker around the net today, but nobody has been doing it longer than them. They aren’t gimmicky at all though. Their game is really solid. Kantor scores points from the service line, Losiak gets his blocks and they can side out as very efficiently the traditional way. The way they vary their offense unsettles opponent’s defensive setup and keeps blockers from getting into a rhythm. This group has two very long blockers in Thole and Nicolai, so the chess match between Poland and the opposition blocker is going to be a fun one to watch.

Complete Olympic Previews

As I finish this post up, the start of the tournament’s first match between Brazil’s Alison & Alvaro and Argentinas Azaad & Capogrosso is just minutes away. If you missed the preview about men’s pool C or any other pools in the next week, just book mark the Beach Volley Blog’s Olympic preview series and keep coming back.