Rio de Janeiro, August 11, 2016 – Nivaldo Diaz and Sergio Gonzalez have had plenty of teams and fans scratching their heads at the Rio de Janeiro 2006 Olympic Games, wondering where this team that have won all three pool matches has come from.
The Cuban pair have taken to their first Olympic Games like the proverbial ducks to water and have cut a swathe through pool play.
Diaz and Gonzales began with a bang by beating the Netherlands’ 2015 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships bronze medallists of Rio-native Pedro Salgado and Evandro Goncalves.
They followed up with a win over 2013 and 2014 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour champions Janis Smedins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs and then rounded off their pool with a straight-sets win over Canada’s leading duo of Ben Saxton and Chaim Schalk.
“We have been training for this for a long time, for four years now in Cuba,” Gonzalez said. “We have really good trainers like Francisco Alvaro Cutino, who played at Athens 2004 and really good players to train with as well.
“We also studied our opponents and luckily we have been playing really good teams that deserve our respect and our strategy is working so far.”
The duo have been together since 2013 but do not feature on the World Tour. Instead they focus their efforts on the NORCECA Tour around North and Central America and the Caribbean.
In 2015 they did progress to the round of 16 at the World Championships and also pocketed bronze at the Toronto 2015 Pan-American Games.
The 22-year-old Diaz and 26-year-old Gonzalez maintain that they have no fear of playing teams that feature in the upper echelons of the World Tour and that in fact it helps them play their best.
“Playing in this tournament doesn’t teach us so much about volleyball, as much as knowing how to conduct ourselves in this tournament,” Diaz said. “The teams that we’ve faced have helped us getting into the right mind set by trying to read them and read their plays. Playing these games have helped us get into that mind set.”
With a proud volleyball heritage and sandy beaches galore many would be forgiven for wondering why Cuba hasn’t made more of an impact on the beach volleyball scene.
Alvaro Cutino and Juan Rosell are the only other Cuban pair to have competed at an Olympic Games, at Atlanta 1996 and Athens 2004, with a seventh-place finish in Atlanta their best result.
It means that Diaz and Gonzalez are one win away from bettering that achievement and with the form they are displaying few would bet against it. It would also provide the impetus for the duo to begin competing on the World Tour, which would help spread the sport around their home nation.
“Cuba as beautiful beaches and very good players, and we wanted this for a very long time and have been thinking about reaching the Olympics for a long time,” Gonzalez said.
“We have trained every day and made a lot of sacrifices and so far it has paid off. We hope it doesn’t stop here and we want to start playing in the World Tour and take our beach volleyball to another level.”
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