On Wednesday morning in Tokyo, after Martins Plavins and Edgars Tocs stunned Brazilians Alison Cerutti and Alvaro Filho in the Olympic quarterfinals, Plavins, the 36-year-old Latvian defender, was asked how he planned on beating Norwegians Anders Mol and Christian Sorum in the next day’s semifinals.
“You know, like Vikings,” Plavins said. “With two swords. They will give us both and we will beat them.”
Even the swords might not have made much of a difference.
Mol was playing at another level, and by another level, what we really mean is that he simply returned to the otherworldly level at which he has played for the last two years. Mol blocked 10 balls en route to a 21-15, 21-16 victory over Latvia, pushing Norway into the gold medal match it very much deserves after dominating the FIVB Tour these last two years.
“I think Anders just played a normal match,” Sorum said, laughing, though the reason he was laughing is because of the absurdity of the truth he was telling: Anders Mol is just that good. Ten blocks is astonishingly normal for the 6-foot-7 24-year-old. “He played really well today and I was really tired after the first set. I got really tired and I told him, ‘Anders, I’m getting really tired now’. And he said, ‘OK, I will step it up, I have more power.’
“And then he did have a lot of block points and that was the key for our way for our victory today. I was super happy to have Anders on my side.”
In a nearly two-month-long stretch in which Mol has had to adjust to teams serving him the majority of balls, he put on his best offensive display of this Olympic Games. He sided out 10 of 15 while Sorum, ever the steadiest of presences, put away 14 of 22. It was a consistency that Latvia could not keep up with.
“They were on a great rhythm,” said Tocs, who finished with a pair of blocks and sided out 17 of 32. “They were hitting everything off the block, off the defense, serving good, siding out.
“If they maybe had missed some more balls, then it would have been a little bit tougher game and they (could have) started to think, but they didn’t think, they did what they did, and they felt comfortable and that was it.”
It is not totally it for the Latvians. They will still have a shot at a bronze medal, for which they’ll play Qataris Cherif Samba and Ahmed Tijan, who lost a wild semifinal match to Russia’s Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy, 21-19, 21-17.
In terms of beach volleyball viewership, it didn’t much matter who won the second semifinal: Both teams would have made for an epic and fitting gold medal match against Norway. Qatar is the hottest team of the season, having made six finals. Russia has been one of the most dominant teams of the quad, the clear No. 2 to Norway’s No. 1. Krasilnikov and Stoyanovskiy won both the 2019 World Championships and the World Tour Finals. Now, having won the semifinal, they’re guaranteed a medal, though a gold would make for one heck of a trifecta.
“We are in the final of the Olympic Games, and it’s been our dream since we started to play beach volleyball as a team,” said Stoyanovskiy, who is 24 years old and making his Olympic debut. “Finally, our hard work paid off, we are very happy.
“It’s history for Russian beach volleyball. It’s the first medal ever (in beach volleyball), and it’s just history.”
The bronze medal match between Qatar and Latvia will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday in Tokyo. The gold medal match will follow at 11:30.
As Stoyanovskiy alluded to, there is still much history to be made in these games. Both Norway and Russia are guaranteed their first Olympic medals each, while Qatar can win their first with a victory over Latvia.
“Nothing is lost,” Samba said. “We have another game ahead of us to get on the podium.”