Tina Graudina turns 23 today (March 9), but she and her partner Anastasija Kravcenoka, who had her 24th birthday in January, have already left their mark on the sand courts over last decade. The Latvians are now wellknown names in the world of beach volleyball and hope to make more headlines in the future as they prepare for their rookie Olympic appearance at Tokyo 2020.
Their first international appearance was over seven years ago. Tina and Anastasija were only 15 and 16 when they participated in the 2013 CEV U18 European Championship and registered three wins to finish ninth.
A year later, they played at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing and also finished ninth. Just before that, Graudina travelled to Acapulco, with Linda Gramberga as a partner, and they claimed the bronze medals at the 2014 FIVB U17 Beach Volleyball World Championship, a moment she remembers fondly.
“The first highlight of my career was definitely my first international medal at the U17 world champs in Acapulco. It will always stay in my memory, just like the achievements Anastasija and I had later on at the senior level,” Graudina told Volleyball World.
In 2015, Graudina and Paula Neciporuka topped the podium at the U18 European Championship at home in Riga, her first international gold medal. That year she also claimed her first international medal at the senior level finishing second at the CEV Satellite in Vaduz and made her FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour debut at the Olsztyn Grand Slam, both in partnership with Inese Jursone.
Kravcenoka and Graudina reunited in 2016 and won their first medal together at the U22 European Championship in Thessaloniki, where they snatched the continental title. That year they also played some senior continental tournaments, including EuroBeachVolley 2016 at home in Jurmala, where they took fifth place, but waited till 2017 to make their World Tour debut as a team, again in Olsztyn.
In 2018 and 2019, the Latvian duo became World Tour regulars, but their big achievements came elsewhere. First, at EuroBeachVolley in Moscow in August 2019, Graudina and Kravcenoka stunned many of the favourites to triumph as European champions.
Then, in September, they came out of the Olympic qualification tournament in Haiyang as one of the two women’s teams with tickets for Tokyo 2020. In the deciding match, the Latvians persevered through a hard-fought tie-breaker with Czechia’s Barbora Hermannova and Marketa Slukova. They mounted a strong comeback from 7-12 to claim a 2-1 (21-17, 15-21, 17-15) victory and the right to compete at the next Olympic Games.
“It was the most unforgettable match for me!” Kravcenoka said. “We won against Maki and Bara and became the first-ever Latvian women’s team to earn a spot at the Olympics.”
“Along with our European Championship title, the Tokyo 2020 qualification was among the biggest highlights of our career as a team. There are a lot of games that I remember, but probably the most memorable one is the final match against the Czech team in China. We will definitely always remember that match because it simply had such high stakes, and knowing that we could come off the court with or without a ticket to Tokyo created such a high intensity and adrenaline that we had never experienced before. The unbelievable comeback at the end of the third set was also something that we hadn't done before,” Graudina added.
With the Olympic qualification process resuming for most other contenders this week in Qatar, Graudina and Kravcenoka can now afford skipping a major tournament and work on their physical and technical foundations in preparation for Tokyo instead.
They have all the reasons to be optimistic about their future and they are…
“My beach volleyball career consists of the many decisions that I have made. I understand how important it is to have the right people around - all the coaches, all the partners I have had. I have been learning from them and I am very lucky to have had each of them at the right time in my life. I am grateful that I have a partner like Tina. We complement each other and we are strong together. For us, together means power,” said Kravcenoka.
“The most important thing is to have common goals and the will to do whatever it takes to reach them,” Graudina added. “Then the results will follow.”
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