Jurmala, Latvia, April 6, 2020 - With the international season on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, the world's elite beach volleyball players are hunkered down at home with their families.
But not Aleksandrs Samoilovs as the legendary Latvian player who turns 35 today is at home here in the Latvian resort city on the Gulf of Riga with his family's dog Azeezel, while his wife Anna and their two sons (Adrian 4 and Christian 3) are in Russia with her family in St. Petersburg.
Samoilovs with his family taking a break during the Lion King's training early this year in Rio de Janeiro
“For me, it is a tough time because my wife and kids are staying in Russia for now,” said Samoilovs, who initially concentrated on playing basketball before taking beach volleyball seriously at the start of the century. “The borders are closed and they (the family) couldn't get in. I have been eating, lying on the sofa watching television, studying and playing with Azeezel.”
In regard to the Tokyo Olympics being postponed to 2021 (July 23-August 8), Samoilovs said “it would have been a big risk to stage this year because of the coronavirus. Wouldn’t it have been great if this pandemic had ended in May or June and the Olympics would be the first big event? I think all the people are hungry for sport.”
A three-time Olympian with three different players, Samoilovs and his Rio 2016 partner Janis Smedins are currently ranked 14th on the FIVB World Tour qualifying list for the Tokyo Games with a 20-point lead (5,720 to 5,700) over their nearest rivals from Canada and Switzerland and 120 points behind No. 13 (the Grimalt cousins from Chile).
After winning the gold medal at the FIVB Under-21 World Championships with Martins Plavins in 2005 on Copacabana, Samoilovs has been a full-time player on the FIVB World Tour since 2006 and is currently tied for 10th on the all-time World Tour participation list with 175 events played.
In addition to winning 13 World Tour gold medals with 25 podium placements, 31 final fours and 50 quarterfinals appearances, Samoilovs has compiled a 476-311 match mark (60.5% winning percentage). Since the FIVB’s switch to rally scoring on the beach in 2001, Samoilovs ranks sixth in World Tour matches played (787) and ninth in wins.
As one of the most recognisable players in the world due to his "roaring" personality and signature look with a headband and long hair, the run to qualifying for Tokyo will not be Samoilovs’ last bid for an Olympic berth. "Paris is definitely a goal," he said. "Players like Jake Gibb give you confidence that you can play a long time in this sport."
Gibb, who has played in the last three Olympic Games in Beijing, London and Rio, who turned 44 in February, is currently listed on the top American team on the Tokyo qualifying list with Taylor Crabb. The pair has compiled 6,680 points for their best 12 finishes on the World Tour highlighted by a gold medal last November in Mexico.
In addition to ranking as one of beach volleyball's all-time great players, Samoilovs operates Beach Box Camps
. After earning two college degrees in finance and law, Samoilovs is continuing his studies to earn a third degree in sports sciences.
“Education has always been a priority in our family,” said Samoilovs, who initially planned for a career in medicine before he became serious in playing beach volleyball. “My father (Genadijs) always said that you can’t eat a volleyball or basketball. You got to put food on the table. I am getting my certification in sports science as I need a degree to work with the kids.”
Here are Samoilovs’ answers to other questions posed to him last week after he returned home from placing ninth in last month’s event in Qatar where he and Smedins split four matches. The Latvians posted wins over the Grimalts (Esteban and Marco) of Chile and Julius Thole/Sven Winter of Germany with three-set losses to reigning world champions Viacheslav Krasilnikov/Oleg Stoyanovskiy of Russia and eventual Doha winners Michal Bryl/Grzegorz Fijalek of Poland.
QUESTION - Who got you started in beach volleyball?
SAMOILOVS - “I was playing basketball for 10 years and my father was a professional volleyball player. When I had breaks in the summers, I was going to the beach just to play for fun with him. At the age of 15, my father had finished his career and he came back and said it is time for me to take beach volleyball seriously. I played two sports for three year and then I qualified for the European Under-20 Beach Volleyball Championships in 2003 where I placed fifth (with Valters Ramma) in my first international tournament.
“Since my family couldn't afford to pay all the travel expenses, I said to my mom if I win gold in 2004 with Martins (Plavins) at the European U20s, I will try to become professional. If not, I will stay as amateur beach volleyball player and study medicine. We won gold and got into the Olympic Candidates where the Latvian Olympic Committee provides financial support.
“The next year (2005), Martins and I won three more tournaments - a June FIVB satellite event in Finland, August’s European U23s in Poland and September’s FIVB U21s on Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro. So, we received additional governmental support. With that assistance, I became a full-time beach volleyball player in 2006 (played in 12 events) which helped launch our successful (with Plavins) bid for a spot in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.”
Martins Plavins (left) and Aleksandrs Samoilovs celebrate their 2005 FIVB U21 World Championship victory in Rio de Janeiro
QUESTION - What was your most memorable moment?
SAMOILOVS - “Defeating Dalhausser (Phil) and Rogers (Todd) in our first Beijing matches was our first experience of big victory, but I would say for me, the most memorable victory was in South Africa in the last event in 2013 in Durban with Janis. With Nelson Mandela dying a week earlier, the South African government cancelled all events on Sunday (December 15). So, four rounds of matches were scheduled for Saturday and we were fighting with Pedro (Solberg) and Bruno (Oscar Schmidt) of Brazil for first place in the FIVB world ranking.
“After defeating a team from France in our second game, Janis went to eat lunch and rest and I started to cramp. The doctors took me to the medical room and Janis came back to the site and asked where I had been. I was like, almost dying, and said I might not play. The semifinal match and the whole tournament on Saturday was amazing. We defeated the Brazilians and beat Plavins and Aleksandrs Solovejs in the first-ever FIVB World Tour all-Latvian finale.”
Aleksandrs Samoilovs (right) hitting against Pedro Solberg in the Durban 2014 semifinal
QUESTION - Once you get done playing beach volleyball, what will you do?
SAMOILOVS - I would like to stay in beach volleyball, around beach volleyball. That's why I started to organise beach volleyball camps five years ago. We have an indoor facility named Beach Box (beachbox.lv) and the owner and I came together in 2015 on this project. The first time I saw beach volleyball camps was in 2005 by Norwegians in Turkey. We started just with Latvian participants next to our training base in Egypt and now we are doing camps all around the world. Last year in Mallorca, we had 220 participants from 13 different countries. All of our coaches are World Tour medallists, Olympians and coaches of these medallists and Olympians. I'm responsible for the training programme and coaches. My partner is responsible for the business part.
QUESTION - What about your family? You have an interesting story about proposing to your wife, right?
SAMOILOVS - Anna and I got married in 2014 (September 20) and we have two sons. She's from St. Petersburg. She's an orthodontist, but now spends full-time with the two boys. She came to Riga to study for three years and now she has been here for nine years. I met her in a dental chair when I was getting braces.
“I proposed to Anna on July 28 on a day after losing to Todd Rogers and Theo Brunner in the 2014 Long Beach quarterfinals. The first time I came to the United States, I had visited Big Sur (people call it the end of the earth) and had this idea that if I was going to propose to someone, I would do it on this beach. Two years later, I brought Anna to Long Beach with the idea of travelling to Big Sur after we were eliminated from the tournament. But (during the tournament) we have a chance to reach the semifinals, so I would miss this chance to propose as I had tickets to fly to Austria for the next tournament. So, I couldn't play 100% focused as my thoughts were about different things. We lose, and I tell Anna we are driving to San Francisco and it is only three hours away. So, I start driving and stop in Big Sur where I asked her to get out of the car to take a picture. I bring her to the cliff edge and stand on knee and propose. And my friends are laughing, you made your proposal on the edge of a cliff so she couldn't say no."