This week feels a bit like Iowa.

At the onset of every presidential election cycle, the national media descends upon the state known mostly for corn and sour cream, and the election frenzy begins. Given that it is but one caucus, and other days like Super Tuesday are massively influential, it is a relatively insignificant state in the grand scheme of things.

What is significant is that it is first, and that is important.

Doha, like Iowa, is first this weekend, and that is important.

The Olympic qualification cycle for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games begins on Wednesday in Doha, Qatar, host of the first Beach Pro Tour event of the 2023 season. Like Iowa, in the grand scheme of things, the points accumulated in Doha will be relatively insignificant and minor in their impact. It helps explain why all four of the top American men’s teams — Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk, Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner, Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander, Miles Partain and Andy Benesh — are sitting this one out.

But the frenzy begins regardless. And it still presents a substantial opportunity for Evan Cory and Logan Webber, and Tim Brewster and Kyle Friend, the only two American men’s teams who traveled and who wouldn’t otherwise find themselves in an Elite 16 field. At the time of this writing, Cory and Webber are seeded seventh in the qualifier, while Brewster and Friend, after a long wait on the reserve list, are 11. (By Wednesday morning, that will likely change).

The American women have taken a visibly different approach to Olympic qualifying, perhaps given the more competitive nature of their Olympic race. Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, on the backs of a $150,000 gold medal at the Beach Pro Tour Finals, have remained in Doha for the Elite 16, as have Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, fifth-place finishers at the Finals who earned a $20,000 check.

Kelly Cheng-Sara Hughes
Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes celebrate their Doha title/Volleyball World photo

Cheng and Hughes, however, will begin the Elite 16 in the main draw, seeded second, alongside eleventh-seeded Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon, while Nuss and Kloth are currently No. 2 in the qualifier. Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft are 8, with a likely first round matchup against TCU’s Spaniards, Daniela Alvarez and Tania Moreno, they of the fantastic run through the Hamburg Elite 16 quarterfinals. Rounding out the qualifier is 16th-seeded Savvy Simo and Toni Rodriguez, who did a little due diligence on social media and knew they’d slide into the qualifier, so they bought last minute flights and are playing their first event together since Rodriguez injured her knee at AVP New Orleans last May.

The next Olympic qualifying event won’t be for more than a month, at a Challenge in La Paz, Mexico. But the Olympic frenzy begins this week in Doha, which feels a whole lot like Iowa.

If you want a primer on how Olympic qualifying works, I have you covered with this Olympic Qualifying 101 video. 

Bruno Schmidt, Brazilian legend and Olympic gold medalist, retires

Bruno Schmidt, one of the great defenders of this generation, an Olympic gold medalist and World Champion, announced his retirement from beach volleyball earlier last week.

“This decision wasn’t made overnight, I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time,” the Brazilian defender told Volleyball World. “Since 2018, I’ve noticed that my performance level has dropped; I was nowhere near the player I was in 2016 and that was really difficult to deal with. I strongly considered retiring after the Tokyo Olympics, but after having knee surgery I was fortunate to get a very competitive partner [Saymon Barbosa] and decided to try for another year. But in the end, I couldn’t see myself as an elite player anymore, so it was clear it was time.”

Bruno Schmidt-beach volleyball
Bruno Oscar Schmidt celebrates a win over Nick Lucena and Phil Dalhausser in the 2016 Long Beach Grand Slam.

For years, Bruno was the standard-bearer for elite defenders. Nicknamed the Magician for what he could do on a volleyball court, Bruno was named the FIVB Best Defender four years in a row, from 2013-2016, culminating in a gold medal at the Rio Olympics with Alison Cerutti. All the while, he was also voted the Best Offensive Player (2015), Most Outstanding (2015, 2016), Sportsperson of the Year (2015, 2016), Team of the Year (2015), and Tour Champion (2015). He finished his career with 15 gold medals, nine silver, and seven bronze.

“Everybody says that deciding to retire is the most difficult decision for an athlete,” he told Volleyball World. “But I’d been thinking about it for so long that it actually feels good right now. I’m very comfortable with my decision and I don’t miss all the sacrifices and the pressure I had to deal with when I was playing. But I know that at some point, probably next year during the Olympics, I’ll miss it. I’ll feel like I could be there and I’ll ask myself if I made the right decision, but that’s what I want.”

Bally’s Regional Sports Networks on the cusp of bankruptcy

On January 25, beach volleyball fans woke up to some disconcerting news: Diamond Sports LLC, which operates under the Bally’s Sports brand, is on the cusp of bankruptcy.

How this could — or will — impact the AVP, a relatively minor asset under the Bally’s umbrella, is entirely unknown, and the matter is a complex one that is far beyond the scope of a sports writer. Bloomberg does a decent job of summarizing the situation, and I’d recommend that above all the other stories I’ve read on it.

Below is what I find to be the most pertinent information from the story:

As restructuring talks continue, creditors are eyeing the Feb. 15 coupon dates as a potential trigger. Some of the company’s creditors don’t want the company to make the interest payments, the people said, because in a restructuring, they are poised to become equity holders and don’t want to see more cash disappear.

If Diamond doesn’t enter bankruptcy soon, it will need to pony up cash to pay teams and leagues for TV rights. The company has about $585 million in cash on hand, as of September 30, but owes about $2 billion in fees to teams this year. Rights payments in the first quarter are usually the highest of the year. “It needs cash,” said Philip Brendel, credit analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “Sending it out the door to bondholders doesn’t keep the business alive.”



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