As the 2018 FIVB beach season winds down, VolleyMob sat down with a few standout players to get their take on the season, their individual team journeys and the game.
First up, we chatted with one of the hottest teams in the world this year, Latvians Janis Smedins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs. Samoilovs shares about his partner, all things volleyball, how his family play a role in his game and how it has changed since he started in 2003. We will share Smedins answers in a separate story.
The Latvians have four podium finishes in their last six events leading up to the FIVB World Tour Championships, including a runnerup effort at the CEV European Championships on July 22. The duo, which teamed up in 2013, won the Moscow Four Star last week and also took the title at the Espinho Four Star on July 8. A bronze medal at the Ostrava Four Star rounds out their medal collection from 2018.
The pair was announced in June as part of an initial group of nine athletes that would be sponsored by P1440, the pro volleyball tour, concert series and health and wellness venture founded by three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings.
1. What drew you to Kerri Walsh Jennings, p1440 and the sponsorship? What difference has that made for you on the FIVB Tour and beyond?
Samoilovs: I’ve known Kerri since I started to play on tour. We started to communicate more at the Beijing Olympic Games. When she started her own tour I really liked the idea because now there’s a huge monopoly with FIVB and United States’ AVP so something new is really important. If Kerri makes a really good tour I think it will be good for FIVB and AVP. I really feel like when the Major Series came to the international tour, FIVB started to create much better tournaments because major series pushes them forward to improve, and to change something and do something good.
For every athlete, sponsorship is really important because we can use the money we get from sponsors for every development. We can make better training camps and we can go to the tournaments with more comfortable flights. We don’t have to find the cheapest flights with huge connections, which makes our life easier and also for hotels, we can be closer to the venue. That’s how we can show our highest results and our highest skills.
2. The last two years have been extremely successful for you, including two runnerup finishes at the European Championships and three FIVB podium finishes in 2018. What has been the key to your success?
Samoilovs: The key is practice. We practice a lot. In the offseason we practice 15 times a week so it’s three times a day on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. We are off on Thursdays and we practice three times a day on Friday and Saturday. So in the morning we have athletic and volleyball practice and in the evening too. I think this is a key on how we can stay physically strong. We have two physical practices a day and this is how we stay strong all season, especially at the end when it’s most important since tournaments are in August.
3. The gold medal in Espinho was your first in nearly two years (Olsztyn 2016). What went right at that tournament for you?
Samoilovs: Yes, it’s true since 2016 we haven’t gotten gold. We had other medals but the level is so high you can see if one team gets three medals in a season then it’s a really good result. You never know before a tournament—there are 20 teams that can easily get gold. Maybe the reason was because Espinho is the only tournament that I brought my family – my two sons and my wife. Maybe this was a key factor and I should bring them to tournaments more often to get more gold.
4. How has your partnership changed since you joined forces back in 2013? How has your game evolved?
Samoilovs: When we started this partnership, we changed as a team and started to play really fast balls. We were the first team to start to make jump sets, attacking second balls a lot and this was actually a game changer for our team. Then other teams started to copy our style but it still brings results, so we’re changing small details but not many. We still try to play fast volleyball and use less contact when we can.
5. Talk about your partner and what he brings to the table. What do you value in your partner?
Samoilovs: Janis from the outside looks like he is a very calm person but he is actually very emotional. He is an introvert. He brings a lot of fire and doesn’t give it away, he stays inside the court. I would say he has this calm killer instinct. He’s really a killer and we call him the terminator.
6. What is something not many people know about you? What is something fans don’t know about your partner?
Samoilovs: Both of our coaches are our fathers. My father is still our coach. He is my first and only coach in beach volleyball. He was actually the first one to start to play beach volleyball in Latvia. He won seven years in a row the Latvian championship in beach volleyball. He learned to play beach volleyball from American magazines. There wasn’t the Internet before so this is how he got new information.
7. Both of you have been around the game of beach volleyball since 2003, how has the game changed over that time? Are there different strategies and tactics you have developed over the years to change with it?
Samoilovs: The game became much more professional. Before, there were just two players on their own. Now you see two players with a huge staff, coaches, second coaches, doctors and scouters. Scouters actually bring a lot of changes to the game. Every game is scouted by a professional with analytic programs, so it’s changed a lot. You need to adapt a lot because you know that every second game you need to play a little different. You know that the competition is analyzing your previous games so it’s like I know that you know what I’m going to do and I know that you’re going there so I will do something different.
Also, another change is the height of players. When I started to play in 2013, Ricardo who is 202 in centimeters, I don’t know how much in feet, was the tallest player (6 foot 6). He was huge. Now Ricardo is a medium blocker. We have so many players who are 6’8, 6’9 and 6’10 and even defenders are more than two meters and you have to deal with this.
8. You have traveled the globe for volleyball. What is your favorite place to play?
Samoilovs: Klagenfurt, Austria. This is my favorite place to play. I would also love to play in Manhattan. When I watch AVP I see it’s an amazing place to play, but international players don’t have a chance to play there. Internationally, Klagenfurt is my favorite place. I really miss that tournament.
9. You have had a lot of success over the years, including the 2015 European Championship. What is your top beach volleyball memory?
Samoilovs: My top European championship is winning Klagenfurt but the highlight of my career is winning the Durban South Africa in 2013 because at that tournament we played four games a day. It was amazing heat because Nelson Mandela died and they moved all of the games from Sunday to Saturday. We had to start at six in the morning and we played four matches a day in the heat. This was a fight for world ranking against Bruno/Pedro and when we won this tournament my whole body was cramping during the final. We won the final, we won the tournament, we won a gold medal and we won the world rankings. So this was an emotional moment and the highlight of my career.
10. What did you work on in training ahead of the World Tour Finals in Hamburg? What is your approach going into the event?
Samoilovs: You don’t have a chance to work and train a lot because now we’re in Moscow and last week we played in Vienna for five star tournaments and this week for four star tournaments. So, you just keep on working. I think we are in good shape for world tour finals in Hamburg. You have to prepare more mentally, physically you can’t change something during competition season or last days. We just prepare mentally really well and focus.
It’s going to be the second edition of the European Championship where we got silver this year because all 10 teams qualified for Hamburg are from Europe. So we will see how it works out and we will try our best. It’s the second most important tournament for us this year.