Argentina and Brazil prevail in medal round of beach volleyball at Pan Am Games

One of the favorites in the gold medal conversation, Brazil faced an upset in the semis by eventual gold medalists Argentina. Heading into the gold medal match, Argentina nearly faced their own upset, facing a very talented Cuban team.

Despite winning the first set by a 21-17 tally, Argentina endured a 24-minute long set that saw them lose by two points to Cuba in the second. Bouncing back from the loss and the windy conditions, Argentina only required 16 minutes to dispose of the Cubans in the third and final set.

In service, Cuba’s Lianma Flores had 21 attempts and 1 ace, while teammate Leila Martinez registered 25 attempts and 2 aces. Of note, Martinez would have a game high 18 digs. Argentina’s Ana Gallay would also have 25 attempts (and 1 ace), but teammate Georgina Klug exceeded them all with 29 attempts. Both would provide 12 digs, part of a balanced attack.

In the bronze medal matchup, the promising Canadian team of 22 year-old Taylor Pischke and 23 year-old partner Melissa Humana-Paredes were defeated by the Brazilian team of Liliane Maestrini and Carolina Horta. Of note, Brazil only needed 17 minutes to take the first set by a score of 21-9, while 20 minutes was required to complete the sweep against Canada, taking the second set by a 21-14 margin.

Horta would log 25 attempts, more than Pischke and Humana-Paredes combined (13 and 11). In addition, Horta had 10 digs, which matched the total of the Canadians, while her 6 service aces topped all competitors in the bronze medal match.

Pischke, who was a former star in the indoor game with the University of Manitoba had lamented that Brazil had successfully kept them outside of their game. Compounded by the windy conditions, and possibly still upset over the loss to Cuba in the semifinals, it made winning very difficult on this day.

For host country Canada, a podium finish looked highly possible. Winning their first four consecutive matches (against Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Costa Rica), Pischke and Humana-Paredes were establishing themselves as favorites to reach the gold medal game. As a side note, they had not even lost a set until their semi-final defeat against Cuba.

Displaying great sportsmanship, Humana-Paredes returned immediately after the match and acknowledged the fCanadian faithful, thanking them for their support throughout the Games. Had they managed to defeat Brazil, they would have made history as the first Canadian female duo to capture a medal in beach volleyball at the Pan Am Games.

Their defeat signifies the fourth time that Canada has advanced to the semi-finals of beach volleyball at the Pan Am Games, only to emerge without a podium finish. Considering their youth, their skills should only improve, ensuring that the elusive medal shall be proudly placed around their necks at the next Pan Am Games.

Volleyball player Sabina Altynbekova becomes internet sensation

A 17-year old member of the Kazakhstan junior national women’s volleyball team has found a remarkable amount of popularity online. Sabina Altynbekova’s newfound celebrity status that has transformed her into an internet sensation is not based on talent or athleticism but on sex appeal. While such popularity raises questions about the substance of some female sporting fans, the fact that she is a teenager may also bring issues of morality.

While the impact of social media is like a pandora’s box, her popularity has led to concerns with her coach Nurlan Sadikov. At the Asian Under-19 Championships in Taiwan, he called her a distraction. This was compounded by his remarks that the attendance was attributed to interest in only one player.

Image obtained from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/

Image obtained from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/

Of note, a Taipei newspaper took her popularity a step further. Measuring in at six-feet tall, the statuesque player was the subject of a ten-page photo spread. She has also advised the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail that the attention is becoming a little bit much. While her focus may be on volleyball, she may need to learn how to manage her popularity.

This rise in popularity is akin to Anna Kournikova, who was a household name despite before winning a tennis tournament. Kournikova’s looks may have supplied her with a significant popularity that led to endorsements and magazine articles, the distractions did not help her on-field performance.

Taking into account that Altynbekova has an Instagram account that features over 277,000 followers, the one silver lining is that she proves there is to more to the nation of Kazakhstan than the film Borat, which was not projected positively in the satirical film.

Should Kazakhstan qualify in volleyball for the 2016 Rio Summer Games, there is no question that Altynbekova shall be the focus of an even bigger level of attention. While the long-term of her athletic career shall be based on success and not sex appeal (lest becoming another footnote in female sporting history like Kournikova), there is one possibility where she may wish to try and utilize both aspects.

Beach volleyball has always been identified with sex appeal. Although the players that are successful (such as Misty May and Kerri Walsh) do so based on talent, it may help Altynbekova fade into the background. While she would always be identified as one of the more attractive beach volleyball players, it would also be a playing field where she played against other beautiful competitors, thus reducing any distractions.

While juggling her popularity may be a sad reality of her sporting future, she should not sacrifice her love of sport because of it. Currently, she has no choice but to ride out the storm. Tastes change frequently in the world of celebrity, especially with the impact of social media. In a year from now, there could easily be another young athlete that usurps her.