Lausanne, Switzerland, June 1, 2016 - For ten teams it is the perfect dress rehearsal for the Olympics - for the remaining participants, it is the highlight of the season. The 24th edition of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix promises the ultimate in volleyball entertainment around the world.
The opening weekend from June 3 to 5 features the first 24 matches in Intercontinental Groups 2 and 3. The top 12 teams in Intercontinental Group 1, including defending champions USA, start their campaigns on the following weekend.
For two teams, this weekend marks the start of the final phase of preparations for the Summer Games in Rio: Argentina and Puerto Rico, who both play in Group 2. Just over a week after qualifying for the Olympic Games for the first time, Puerto Rico is gripped by a volleyball fever.
“The 22nd of May will go down in the history of the sport in Puerto Rico. We now want to put on a good show at the FIVB World Grand Prix too,” said coach Juan Carlos Núñez. He and his 13 players – Vilmarie Mojica, Natalia Valentin, Stephanie Enright, Yarimar Rosa, Aury Cruz, Alexandra Oquendo, Lynda Morales, Daly Santana, Paulina Prieto, Shara Venegas, Diana Reyes, Shirley Ferrer and Karina Ocasio – have made the long journey to Europe.
The preliminary round week in Zielona Gora, Poland, first sees Puerto Rico take on the Czech Republic on Friday before facing Canada and hosts Poland.
The Argentinean ladies, who qualified for the Olympic Games long ago, have home advantage on the opening weekend in Tucuman. As well as Kenya, they also play the Dominican Republic and Bulgaria, who are both among the favourites to win Intercontinental Group 2. Argentina lost 0-3 to Bulgaria in a friendly last Friday.
Eyes will also be on the team from Kenya. Their triumph in Intercontinental Group 3 last year, and the resulting promotion, were one of the greatest successes for women’s volleyball in Africa. Having missed out on qualification for the Olympics, the Malkia Strikers are out to make an impact in the FIVB World Grand Prix.
“We can't wait to compete in Grand Prix Group 2 and to play some of the best teams in the world. With God, everything is possible,” said top player Mercy Moim. Head coach David Lung'aho’s target is to finish in the top six in Intercontinental Group 2, which consists of eight teams in total.
At the end of the two preliminary round weekends, hosts Bulgaria will be joined in the Final Round in Plovdiv (June 18-19) by the top three teams in the overall standings. The format is exactly the same for the eight teams in Intercontinental Group 3, with the Final Round taking place on June 18-19 in Almaty/Kazakhstan.
The opening weekend features preliminary round tournaments in Algiers, Algeria, and Bendigo, Australia. In Algeria, the hosts will be joined by Kazakhstan, Peru and Mexico. Meanwhile, the Australians welcome Columbia and the two hot favourites to triumph in Intercontinental Group 3 – Cuba and Croatia. Cuba won the inaugural FIVB World Grand Prix in Hong Kong in 1993. Their second title in this prestigious competition followed in 2000. However, it is now ten years since Cuba’s last podium – bronze in 2006. The Cubans are now looking for a return to former glory with a young team.
Croatia boasts a host of experienced international players for the FIVB World Grand Prix, including Ana Grbac, Mira Topic, Jelena Alajbeg and captain Mia Jerkov. The team have been runners-up at the European Championship on three occasions and clearly have a huge potential.
This weekend is the start of six weeks of top women’s volleyball action. There is something new again in 2016: the Group 1 Finals will be hosted by Thailand for the very first time. They will take place from July 6 to 10 and gather millions of fans around the world in a dress rehearsal for the Olympic Games in Rio. From Macau to Olympics host nation Brazil, from Australia to Algeria, from the USA to Poland – the World Grand Prix will include a total of 120 matches and criss-cross the continents to present some of the finest volleyball action around.