England’s Sheaf and Gregory take baby steps towards Tokyo 2020

Sochi, Russia, September 9, 2015 – In front of a roaring home crowd England’s Jake Sheaf and Chris Gregory beat the odds at the FIVB World Tour Sochi Open on Wednesday with a hard fought 2-0 (21-14, 21-19) win over home team Oleg Stoyanovskiy and Artem Yarzutkin.

It was their opening match in only their second World Tour event this year. “It was tough”, 25-year old Sheaf said. “We arrived Tuesday morning, so it was nice to get a win under our belt in this first match. Against the home crowd as well.”

Russian youngsters Stoyanovskiy and Yarzutkin entered the match as favourites. Not only because of the home advantage but also because they have more World Tour experience, despite their age (18 and 19), than the Brits.

Gregory: “They are a very good team, they won the Youth Olympics and I saw them play one tournament in Austria where they played in the final. So we know they are a good team and they got a good dynamic. But I think we came out and played more our level.”

Especially in the second set the audience was treated to some great rallies with Yarzutkin digging the ball off the sand one after another. The Russians levelled at 5-5 and again at 13-13, but they could not prevent Gregory claim victory at the second match point. The key was staying high on energy Sheaf said. “Stay fired up throughout the whole game and team work.”

The Sochi Open is only their fifth World Tour event and the third time they are in main draw in two. Sheaf: “We kind of prioritize European Tour events at the moment. Our main thing is just to get experience in tournaments. Where a new team, this is our second year now, so it’s just getting experience, trying to get some wins under our belts and when we are ready for the World Tour we’ll go for it.”

Apart from some sponsoring the Brits don’t have any funding, so they have to work to fund their beach volleyball career. Another problem is finding good training partners.

“It’s really tough back home because we don’t have the training partners to really push us”, Sheaf said. “There is another team that competes with us in the Continental Cup, Weaver and Smith, but one of them lives in America and the other one has kind of taken a step back from doing it fulltime. So we don’t have the training partners, which means we have to travel abroad to get that level of practice. Which means more money and less work. But we try to find a balance and we are very committed to what we do. And we try to show that on the court.”

And that commitment should ultimately lead to their big long-term goal: the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and not just as spectators like in London. “I watched the men’s final in 2012”, Gregory said. “But I kind of said I wanted to be there well before that really. I started playing at 19, Jake at 16 and we met up just right after the London 2012 and made 2020 our goal. Our plan is to play more World Tour in the next Olympic cycle.”


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