Not many people would naturally associate Russia with beaches. Russia’s women however, in the women’s and mixed division are making it very difficult not to make this connection. Watching these women over the last few days has been nothing short of immense. With the level of athleticism and discipline they’ve brought to Portimao’s beaches, it’s no wonder both the Russian women and mixed teams have made the final to go along with their male counterparts who will battle Great Britain tomorrow.
At worlds two years ago, Russia’s women made an unbelievable comeback in their gold medal match against the USA, making a four-point run at 6-10 to battle for the title in universe point, and they snatched the title in style. USA’s women had been the favourites to win, making this victorious underdog comeback all the more exciting. Many of the women that ran Russia to Gold are present here at EBUC. However, this time around it seems the key players have transferred to the mixed division. Alexandra and Anna Pustovaia, Dina Dumanskaia, Natalia Mashianova and Margarita Parshukova are some of the names representing the mixed team aiming for gold on Saturday.
Going from strength to strength in two divisions and with the prospect of taking another medal home for Russia, I decided to speak to Anna Pustovaia. I wanted to gain insight into why these women transferred to mixed, instead of keeping their talent in the women’s squad. Pustovaia answers, ‘We decided to play mixed together because it’s something new. I didn’t know how to play with men before, so this was a new challenge for me personally. It’s cool because there are new tactics to learn, working with the guys. Also, playing a faster game interests me.’
Whilst the loss of these players is a shame for the Russian women’s team, it has not held them back at EBUC. After a few frustrating defeats at the beginning of the week, against Spain and Latvia, the Russian women proved their worth against the Danes, who had thus far been dominating the women’s division. The Russians finished the game with an astonishing 13-6 win. Speaking to Inga Sulimova, the team’s captain, she told me, ‘After the losses we wanted to build our game again and to feel like the team we know we are, so we were really pumped up for this game.’ Technically speaking, the result was irrelevant; both teams would be playing each other again in the semi-finals anyway, but Sulimova explains, ‘for the sake of our team spirit we really wanted to win this game.’
Winning against the Danish women yesterday was a victory for Russian pride. Yet, there was always the chance the Danes didn’t play their best game in order to save their tactics for the semi-finals. However, when blow came to blow, any changes in Danish tactics didn’t affect the clean, safe Russian game play. They won the game at 12-8, putting themselves through for a rematch against the Spaniards in the final.
If you’re still wondering how the Russians are so good at beach; I have the answer. Both Sulimova and Pustovaia mentioned an indoor city beach during our conversations. Regular training sessions here explains the Russian ability to finesse on both grass and beach surfaces. Pustovaia says the pitch is a little small which can make training difficult but reviewing the Russian performances at EBUC, I don’t think it holds them back too much.
By Maya Israel
Cover photo taken by Ilia Shypunov