20/06/2015 09:20
Israeli sensation continues at Baku, Hilman and Faiga stun Latvians to make quarter-finals
2015 European Games

Baku, Azerbaijan, June 20, 2015. Sean Faiga and Ariel Hilman of Israel are slowly but surely turning into the real sensation of the men’s Beach Volleyball tournament at the Baku 2015 European Games. After recording three straight wins in their pool, on Saturday morning they moved another step forward in their quest for a medal as they routed Latvia’s Ruslans Sorokins and Aleksandrs Solovejs 21-14, 21-15 to advance to the quarter-finals. This is something quite remarkable for the Israelis who have been playing together for three years now and are hoping to continue their winning streak in Azerbaijan’s capital.  

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Faiga and Hilman teamed up three years ago after playing indoors as they realised Beach Volleyball would offer an opportunity to make the international elite and to represent Israel at the Olympics, which is the ultimate goal they share. “We started three years ago and we have been playing together ever since,” Hilman says. “Our dream is to make the Olympics and this is something we would never achieve playing indoors. So far things have been going well, we keep on improving and maybe we also stand a chance with the Continental Cup,” where Israel has made the fourth round coming up later this summer following their second place finish at Limassol, Cyprus some weeks ago.

Hilman played professionally in Germany whilst Faiga has previous experiences in the Greek and Korean national leagues before they decided to switch to Beach Volleyball. “The Israeli Volleyball Association and the Olympic Committee have been supporting us in the best way so far,” they say. “Beach Volleyball is developing very fast in Israel where we have all necessary conditions for the practice of this sport. The weather is perfect, we have nice beaches in Tel Aviv and along the coastline, and more clubs are investing in Beach Volleyball. There is also a national tour which lasts for two months with stops every weekend and this is of course fostering the growth and development of the sport. However, we usually play abroad as we need to collect points to improve our position in the international ranking.”

Hilman and Faiga are proud to represent Israel at the first ever European Games: “So far this has been a very nice experience. We are part of a large delegation and everything is being arranged in the best way. We just have to sleep, eat and play,” Hilman recounts, “whilst when we travel the world we usually have to organise many things by ourselves. We do not feel any pressure at this stage, actually we maybe had this feeling at the beginning of the tournament where we still did not know how things would work out here. We are just playing free from any pressure and enjoying the experience. We have been at the World University Games before but I agree with many colleagues who have said that these Games are something special, probably the closest experience you can get to the real Olympics.”

The Israelis were cheered on by a large group of compatriots on Saturday morning as they beat Sorokins and Solovejs. “There was a number of Israeli in the stands,” Hilman admits, “including the President and General Manager of the Israeli Olympic Committee as well as Yael Arad, a real sporting legend in our country for she won a silver medal in judo at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.”

A medal at the first ever European Games would certainly raise the profile of Beach Volleyball in their home country: “Our sport needs more exposure and our people are working in the right way back home to provide more chances and opportunities for Beach Volleyball to grow. We still need to get more exposure and of course our results here are helping,” Hilman stresses.

The more talkative Hilman and the relatively shy Faiga spend the off season in the USA training with a Beach Volleyball guru in California. However, right now their only focus is on a solid performance at the first ever European Games and a medal would provide a terrific boost for the further growth of this sport in a country which is somehow naturally a place where any Beach Volleyball player would feel at home. Their next stop in the tournament will follow later tonight once they play another Latvian tandem, 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Martins Plavins and Haralds Regza.

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