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2017-05-30 16:42:00 CEST

More Than Sports: High hopes for Cuba’s finest

Gonzales/Nivaldo have big goals for the World Championships

When Nivaldo Diaz Gomez and Sergio Gonzales turned up at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in 2015 in The Hague, people rubbed their eyes in astonishment. The two young Cuban beach volleyball players seemed to come out of nowhere. They finished ninth and, one year later, came fifth at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro – all without ever having played a Swatch Major Series event or on any international World Tour tournament.

Nivaldo (left) and Gonzales celebrate their first FIVB medal in Langkawi in April. Credit: FIVBNivaldo (left) and Gonzales celebrate their first FIVB medal in Langkawi in April. Credit: FIVB

“It has been a financial problem,” Nivaldo tells us. “We did not have any support from the federation. “After the great success at the Olympics, things changed for 23-year-old and his partner Sergio, 26. They brought some fame to beach volleyball in Cuba, where indoor volleyball is the measure of all things. “Now, the federation supports us by paying our flights, accommodation and everything,” Nivaldo says. He and Sergio repaid them by winning gold at the one-star tournament in Langkawi, their first ever FIVB World Tour event. After finishing fifth at Xiamen three-star, they then placed 17th at Rio four-star event earlier this month. “Now we need good points in Russia,” Nivaldo says ahead of this week’s three-star event in Moscow.

Collecting points for the second team

The tournament in Moscow is the last one counting towards qualification for the World Championships in Vienna. If Nivaldo/Gonzales manage to qualify via the world ranking, they will secure a second spot for Cuba at the World Championships because Karell Peña and Daisel Quesada, the practice partners of the two guys, have already secured one spot for the Caribbean nation when winning the continental tour of the NORCECA  federation. As it stands, Nivaldo/Gonzales have 1,830 points and sit 36th in the rankings. To qualify for the Vienna showpiece they need to jump up to 23rd place, which is currently occupied by Polish pair Fijalek/Bryl with 2,212 points.

Having two teams at the World Championships is the biggest goal of the Cuban federation, so the tournament plan was just made until the Moscow event. Nivaldo/Gonzales do not know at the moment, if they will be able to enter the Swatch Major Series stops in Poreč, Gstaad or even the World Tour Finals in Hamburg. “If we bring good results, I am positive that we can add some tournaments,” Nivaldo says. The great goal of the pair, who started playing together 2012, is this summer’s World Championships in Vienna. “We want to reach the podium there,” Nivaldo tells us.

From chess table to the beach

This goal is indeed realistic, looking back at the results of the Cuban national players so far. The physical condition of the two athletes attracts attention. “I think, no player at the World Championships has our resistance, that is our biggest advantage,” says Nivaldo. That’s how they compensate missing international competition practice. Another benefit is their background: “Cuba is always good in volleyball, we have this in our blood,” Nivaldo says. “And we have a great coach.” Head coach of the duo is Leonides Regueiferos. “He has been player on the World Tour himself. He knows the system and all the players – we see beach volleyball in his eyes,” adds Nivaldo.

Sergio (right, with the Miksaka) and Nivaldo want to create more attention for beach volleyball in Cuba. Credit: FIVBSergio (right, with the Miksaka) and Nivaldo want to create more attention for beach volleyball in Cuba. Credit: FIVB

And then, Nivaldo reveals to us a secret: “Ten years ago I didn’t even know how beach volleyball works,” he says. Nivaldo has been a successful chess player in Cuba, so much so he almost made it to the national team. But his last tournament did not work out well for him. “Then my father told me I am too tall to sit at the table anyway!” Nivaldo says laughing. So he tried to enter indoor volleyball, one of the biggest sports in Cuba. “But they had no place for me.” He started with beach because he did not know what else to do. “At the beginning I was totally thin and knew nothing, but I had a great coach, a woman, who helped me to develop very well.”

Now he is totally into the sport like Sergio, who played indoor to begin with before he switched to beach.

With a medal at the World Championships they want to bring Cuba into the spotlight of beach volleyball in the world. “That can make a difference for our sport in Cuba,” hopes Nivaldo.

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