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Laura Ludwig Louisa Lippman Beach Pro Tour Ostrava Elite16

German star Laura Ludwig needs a third-place finish this week with partner Louisa Lippmann to make it to her fifth Olympics

After almost 17 months of traveling around the world and battling for points, the race to qualify for the Paris 2024 Games through the FIVB Olympic Rankings comes to an end this week at the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Ostrava Elite16.

At the conclusion of the Czech event, on Sunday, the 17 men’s and women’s teams that secured their spots at the Olympics for their countries via the Rankings will be known, bringing to an end the longest and most competitive qualification pathway.

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Even though several teams have already managed to book their tickets to the French capital ahead of this week’s event in Ostrava, there are still some interesting battles set to see their final chapters unfold over the next five days at the iconic Lower Vitkovice industrial heritage site.

Each of these races could come to an end as early as Wednesday, when the qualifiers will be held in Ostrava. Main draw will be played from Thursday to Friday, with the elimination rounds progressing on Saturday and the semifinals and medal rounds concluding the event (and the Olympic race) on Sunday.

Ostrava Elite16 – Match Schedule

Here are the battles to follow this week:

Liliana and Paula try to keep the last women’s spot

Spanish Liliana Fernández and Paula Soria, who will play in the qualifier in Ostrava, took a major step to book their tickets to Paris last week, when they finished third at the Stare Jablonki Challenge and moved inside the qualification zone in 17th place with 6,800 points.

The two first teams outside the qualification zone, Canada’s Sarah Pavan/Molly McBain (6,660) and Finland’s Taru Lahti/Niina Athiainen (6,420), are both currently on the reserve list for the Ostrava Elite16 and won't have a chance to add points this week. That makes Canadians Sophie Bukovec and Heather Bansley (6,280) emerge as the main threat to the Spanish right now. They will start in the qualifier and would need to at least make it to the semifinals to have a chance of passing the Europeans – for that to happen, Liliana and Paula could not advance beyond pool play. For the Spanish to clinch their spot regardless of the results of their opponents, they would need to elevate their total over 7,140, which they would do by advancing to the semifinals in Czechia.

Bukovec and Bansley could also catch France’s Lézana Placette/Alexia Richard (6,920) and Lithuania’s Monika Paulikiene/Aine Raupelyte (6,900) this week, but they would need to win a medal to have a chance of doing it. French and Lithuanians both start the Ostrava Elite16 in the qualifier and can confirm their presence in Paris with a semifinal appearance in Czechia.

Grimalts looking to return to the qualification zone

Looking to qualify for the Olympics for a third-straight time, the Chilean cousins Marco and Esteban Grimalt were knocked out of the qualification zone last week and will have a final chance to return to it in Ostrava, where they will start in the qualifier.

Horst Horl Grimalt Beach Pro Tour Ostrava Elite16

After playing each other last week in Poland, Chileans and Austrians are involved in the dispute for a spot in Paris

They have the same 7,260 points as the last team inside the qualification zone, Austria’s Julian Hörl/Alexander Horst, and the two duos will meet in the second round of the qualifier in Ostrava if they win their opening matches. The Europeans qualify if they win the encounter or the Chileans lose in the first round. For the Grimalts to book their tickets to Paris, they will need to advance to the main draw and finish at least in ninth place to get enough points to pass their Austrian rivals.

Swiss and Germans in direct battles

Two women’s domestic battles will also continue until the last event of the qualification period with duos from Switzerland and Germany fighting for the right to represent their country at the Games – each nation can have up to two teams per gender at the Olympics and both Switzerland and Germany already have one spot taken.

The Swiss duel involves two sisters, with Zoé Vergé-Dépré/Esmée Böbner (7,900) currently ranking higher than Anouk Vergé-Dépré/Joana Mäder (7,580) – both teams start in the qualifier and will meet in the second round if they prevail in their first matches. Zoé and Esmée need their rivals not to make it to the semifinals to qualify, so winning the potential qualifier match would seal the deal for them. For Tokyo Olympic bronze medalists Mäder and Vergé-Dépré, finishing fourth or higher will take them to Paris.

The German race for the second spot in Paris is even tighter, with Laura Ludwig/Louisa Lippmann (7,580) leading Sandra Ittlinger/Karla Borger (7,360) by just 220 points, and could be decided on Wednesday, when the teams meet in the first round of the qualifier. If the Rio 2016 Olympic champion and the former volleyball star win, they qualify. For Ittlinger and Borger, a fifth-place finish in Ostrava will be needed after eliminating Ludwig and Lippmann on Wednesday.

Three Dutch teams fight for two spots

The Dutch men’s race is the most complex between teams from the same country as it involves three duos – Stefan Boermans/Yorick de Groot (9,180), Matthew Immers/Steve van de Velde (8,880) and Alexander Brouwer/Robert Meeuwsen (8,600) – and two berths.

Boermans and de Groot will qualify regardless of what their two opponents do in Ostrava if they finish ninth or higher while Immers and van de Velde need to make it to the semifinals to make sure they’ll end the event with more points than Brouwer and Meeuwsen – both teams have spots guaranteed in the main draw.

The situation of Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medalists Brouwer and Meeuwsen is a little bit more complicated as, besides having to catch their opponents, they also start the tournament in the qualifier. To get to Immers and van de Velde, they will need to make it at least to the semifinals and hope their opponents rank two spots below them, up to fifth place. Getting to Boermans and de Groot is even more complicated as to do it, they would need to win gold and see their opponents not advance from pool play.

The United States have two teams in contention for one spot with Chase Budinger/Miles Evans (8,400) currently having the edge over Trevor Crabb/Theo Brunner (7,860). The former NBA star and his partner will qualify if they make it to the semifinals in Ostrava while their opponents need gold or silver and hope that their rivals finish at least four spots below them.

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