Tokyo, Japan, May 12, 2016 - All eight women’s volleyball teams are now in Japan, and the scene is set for seven days of intense competition with half of the teams destined to book a place at this year’s Rio Olympics.
Of the teams gathered in Tokyo, only one – Thailand – has never been to an Olympic Games. At the other end of the scale is host nation Japan, who has been to 11 Games, a record it shares with the United States.
The host nation, at fifth, is also the highest ranked team competing at the qualifiers, while 26th-ranked Kazakhstan is the outsider according to world rankings.
But Japan comes into these qualifiers off the back of a disappointing, by its lofty standards, 2015, which included a shock sixth at the Asian Volleyball Championships.
Italy is looking to qualify for its fifth consecutive Olympic Games, and 37-year-old Francesca Piccini has been to every one so far. She’s in Japan hoping to help guide the team to Rio, but will have to do so without the Bosetti sisters, who were not selected.
At the other end of the age scale is Thailand’s Chatchu-On Moksri, who at 16 years and six months is the youngest player competing at the qualifiers.
The tournament is littered with star players, including Korean captain, Kim Yeon-Koung, who was voted the MVP at the 2012 London Olympics. She will be hoping to steer her team to an 11th Olympics.
The Dominican Republic was one of the surprise performers in London in 2012, finishing fifth after being beaten by eventual silver medallists, USA, in the quarter finals. That was just their second Olympic Games, but with a current world ranking of seven they will be one of the teams to watch this week.
Peru was once one of the powerhouses of women’s international volleyball, but they haven’t been to an Olympics since Sydney 2000. But after finishing second in Group 3 of last year’s Grand Prix, they are confident of a bold showing this week.
So who will start favourite this week in Japan? Probably The Netherlands, who won Group 2 of last year’s Grand Prix, and then finished second to the powerful Russians at this year’s European Olympic qualifiers.
Certainly their coach, Giovanni Guidetti, is confident, predicting on the eve of the tournament that his side will go to Rio.
In just over one week we will know if his confidence was justified.
The eight teams competing in Japan, and their current world ranking, are;
Dominican Republic (7)