2018-01-22 18:35:00 CEST
After one season competing indoor, the Russian giant returned to the sand with ambitious plans
Right after being part of the first Russian beach volleyball team to ever advance to the Olympic semifinals in Rio 2016, Konstantin Semenov came to a tough conclusion: it was time to prioritize his family and step away from the sport he loved.
What he didn’t know at the time, though, was that the final push for him to give his dreams another shot and return to the sands of the world a little over one year later would come exactly from his household.
Originally an indoor player, having represented the Russian Youth and Junior National Teams, Semenov transitioned to the beach in 2009 and became a prominent name in the World Tour in the last decade, amassing two golds, three silver and two bronzes in 74 international events, including two Olympic participations.
At the age of 27, he accepted an offer from Gazprom-Ugra and transitioned back to indoor in an attempt to avoid the long beach volleyball summer trips and spend more time with his family. However, his return to the hard floor didn’t work as he planned as he was plagued by injuries and struggled to find playing time in the competitive Russian league.
“Moving back to indoor after playing beach was very difficult,” admits Konstantin. “My back and my knees struggled and I’ve had a lot of injuries because of the hard floor. I didn’t have much of a reputation on indoor and any mistakes I’d make on my limited playing time would cost me a lot.”
The plans of enjoying more time with his family were quickly outshined by his daily struggles and what was excitement soon became frustration. Semenov tried moving to another club, Belogorie Belgorod, but the results didn’t change much.
If the 2.10m towering blocker was failing to see what the solution for his problems was, his wife, Marina, was not, as she was the one who gave the Russian the push he needed to return to his beloved beach volleyball routine.
“I don’t see any fire in your eyes since you have been playing indoor again,” she told him. “You used to be a different person in the court. You have to return to beach volleyball.”
Not long after that conversation, Semenov made his way back to the sand. His first move was choosing who his new partner would be and the option was for 22-year-old Ilya Leshukov, a silver medalist at the 2014 FIVB Under-21 World Championships.
With Semenov out of the World Tour since 2016 and Leshukov registering only eight tournaments played in his entire international career, the tandem will have to literally climb its way into the world rankings from the bottom, but the challenge doesn’t worry the confident Semenov.
“He’s young, but very experienced,” Semenov explains. “And he has big goals, such as I do. The points are an issue for us now, so we’ll have to play some regional and satellite tournaments, but I hope we can compete in the Major Series at some point this season. We still have some time until Vienna and I hope we can make it.”
Their road will be long and complicated, but the Russians’ first step was nothing but promising. In the second half of December, one week before Christmas, Semenov made his official return to beach volleyball pairing with Leshukov in the Eastern European Volleyball Association Finals, a tournament held in Moscow comprising teams from Russia, Latvia, Belarus, Estonia and Ukraine.
Despite of the short time of partnership, the duo dominated the event, claiming gold with five straight wins and no sets dropped on its way to the top of the podium.
“It was such an awesome feeling to return and win the Moscow EEVZA,” Semenov celebrated. “I had about ten days to prepare and I had a huge support from Russian coach Evgeniy Romashkin. I am so grateful to him.”
All Semenov and his partner want to do now is playing and they already know where they’ll be serving, digging, setting and spiking balls next. The Russian duo is currently in João Pessoa, in the northeast of Brazil, and will compete in the country’s National Tour next week in Fortaleza.
“This is how we decided to start our preparation for the season,” says Semenov. “We are working with famous Brazilian coach Adriano Ticao before the tournament and it has been great to train with some tough Brazilian teams.”
Sessão de treino com amistoso internacional Brasil 🇧🇷 x Russia 🇷🇺. Atletas Vitor Felipe @vitorfelipe00 e Harley Marques @harleyvolei contra os russos Semenov @konstantin.semenov e Leshukov @zaen1ka . #cangacovolei #ctcangaco #cangacovoleidepraia #ocangaconaopara #voleidepraia #voleibrasil #cbv #beachvolley #beachvolleyball #joaopessoa #paraiba #brasil #beachmajor #fivbworldtour
216 Likes, 3 Comments - C. T. Cangaço Vôlei de Praia (@ctcangacovoleidepraia) on Instagram: "Sessão de treino com amistoso internacional Brasil 🇧🇷 x Russia 🇷🇺. Atletas Vitor Felipe..."
Semenov will probably be playing in a lot of different places in the next few years, but he knows very well where he wants to be between July and August 2020: in Tokyo, for this third Olympic participation. The road to the Japanese capital, though, can be a tough one since Russia is currently stacked with talent in the men’s side.
Nikita Liamin and Viacheslav Krasilnikov, who won four medals in the 2017 World Tour in the first season together including a bronze in the World Championships, and 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympic champions Oleg Stoyanovskiy and Artem Yarzutkin, who claimed three World Tour medals in the last two seasons, will be tough competitors for the country’s Olympic berths (each country can only have two teams in each gender competing in the Olympics) when the Olympic race starts in 2019.
“Liamin and Krasilnikov were in great shape last season and they had unbelievable results,” Semenov acknowledges. “The other Russian teams were also very effective in the World Tour and that shows a good work from the National Federation. But I hope my deepest dream of becoming an Olympic champion comes true one day.”