Having teamed up towards the end of the 2011 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour, Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai quickly progressed and won World Tour silver and bronze en route to their debut Olympic Games at London 2012. They qualified in style, in front of their home fans at that year’s Rome Grand Slam.
In London they knocked out defending champions Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser before being eliminated at the quarterfinal stage, but it was another sign of the pair’s potential.
Three World Tour gold, four silver, four bronze and two European Championships gold followed in the four years building up to the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
In Rio they hit their stride to reach the gold medal match where they lost 2-0 (21-19, 21-17) to reigning world champions and local favourites Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt.
Lupo and Nicolai’s run had captivated beach volleyball fans back home who woke up in the middle of the night to cheer on the pair from either side of Italy’s boot; Lupo from Rome and Nicolai from Ortona on the Adriatic coast.
“When you lose something, it is a little bit difficult, but we have a silver medal, so we are a so proud of our team,” Nicolai said at the time.
“They are the best for sure. They won the World Championships and now won the Olympic medal. They are the best team. Today we tried to give everything on the court, but they played better, and they are the champions.”
The 29-year-old Lupo and 31-year-old Nicolai carried their form into 2017 where they ended the year with bronze from the Hamburg 2017 FIVB World Tour Finals and another European title, but halfway through 2018 injuries and a loss of form took their toll and by the end of 2019 they had failed to win another medal.
They did, however, book a place for Italy at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games by winning the FIVB Tokyo Beach Volleyball Olympic Qualification Tournament at Golden Beach in Haiyang, China in September, and then broke their run without a World Tour medal with bronze at the Doha 4-Star in March.
Lupo and Nicolai were the only Italian team in Doha as they had flown in from Florida where they had been training with Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena on Daytona Beach.
That meant they were not constrained by Italy’s Covid-19 lockdown laws that stopped the other Italian teams from travelling, though once they returned home, they were unable to train together.
Their Doha bronze showed that they were returning to their best form at just the right time, though they will now have to go again in 2021 after the postponement of Tokyo 2020 for 12 months.
“For now, we are observing how the situation changes,” Lupo told Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport in May.
“I hope that we can start playing in the middle of July. I hope that day arrives soon. What a beautiful sensation it will be. I have missed it so much during quarantine.”
When they do return, they can turn their attention to finalising their preparations for the Olympic Games.
Qualification came with a 2-0 (21-17, 21-19) win over the Netherlands’ Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen, a team who had lined up on the Rio 2016 podium with bronze.
“We are thrilled to clinch this berth early as we now can concentrate on Tokyo while competing on the World Tour,” said Nicolai.
“We have played so many matches against the Dutch, so both teams know each other very well. It was our day and we are so proud to represent Italy again in the Olympics.”
FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour
Olympic Games Tokyo 2020