Krou

It has been more than a decade since Paris has hosted a major beach volleyball tournament, a fact that is not lost amongst Parisians competing for the French national team.

“I was born in Paris,” Arnaud Gauthier-Rat, France’s top-ranked defender, said. “I would be thrilled to compete in front of my friends and family.”

In the first five years of his professional career, he simply hasn’t had that opportunity. The only events France has hosted since Gauthier-Rat began competing internationally in 2018 have been minor tournaments, one-stars – equivalent to the Beach Pro Tour’s Futures – in Montpellier. Now, two years before Paris is set to host the 2024 Olympic Games, Gauthier-Rat’s hometown is home to one of the biggest events on the calendar in this weekend’s Elite16.

“We’re so excited to play this big event in France,” said Aline Chamereau, a 26-year-old blocker partnered alongside Clemence Vieira. “It’s the first Elite16 for us so yes we are so excited to play at this great level and it’s the biggest for us because it’s in France, the first international tournament in France. It’ll be great.”

Both Chamereau and Gauthier-Rat, who is playing alongside Youssef Krou, will begin in Wednesday’s qualifier, where success comes with an additional incentive, other than the usual bonus of making the main draw and the prize money that comes with it. No, this weekend, the main draw will be played in one of the most iconic – if not the single most iconic – venues on the beach volleyball calendar: Stade Roland Garros, home to tennis’ annual French Open.

“A beach volleyball event in Roland Garros is awesome,” Chamereau said. “We are so proud to be hosting this kind of event. A lot of people have big emotions in tennis, in Roland Garros, so now we will create new emotions in beach volleyball.”

Indeed, emotions will abound on Wednesday, as the qualifier, per usual in these Elite16 events, is a loaded affair. The men’s side is led by Italians Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi, who have finished in the top five in two of their previous three events. Behind them is the home favourites in Krou and Gauthier-Rat, who precede a pair of youngsters who have shocked the world – and themselves – in 2022. Australians Mark Nicolaidis and Izac Carracher expected, at the beginning of this season, to only be competing in Futures. Yet a win at the Coolangatta one-star and a stunning ninth at the World Championships fuelled their ascent to where they are now: Seeded third in an Elite16 qualifier.

Chileans Noe Aravena and Vicente Droguett, too, have had a rapid ascent up the ranks, beginning with a silver medal in the season-opening Tlaxcala Challenge, an event that marked just the second main draws of their career. Since, they've taken a pair of ninths, in Itapema and Kusadasi, and are the four seeds in Wednesday's qualifier.

An intriguing storyline to follow will be sixth-seeded Americans Andy Benesh and Miles Evans, who are the only men’s team from the United States to make the trip to France and therefore have the responsibility of extending the United States’ medal streak in Paris.

An American team has medalled in all four tournaments Paris has hosted: Jake Gibb and Stein Metzger in 2005, Gibb and Sean Rosenthal in 2006, Mike Lambert and Metzger in 2007, and Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers in 2008.

Can Benesh and Evans extend the run?

The women’s qualifier also features a single American team in Megan Kraft and Emily Stockman, who will seek to join countrywomen Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint, Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon, and Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth in the weekend’s main draw. Of particular note in the women’s qualifier is the sheer diversity of teams within it: Of the 16 teams competing on Wednesday, 14 hail from different countries. Only Brazil – Elize Maia and Thamela Coradelli and Taiana Silva and Victoria Lopes – and France – Vieira and Chamereau and Marine Kinna and Elsa Descamps – have multiple teams in the qualifier.

The rest is a global assortment, all seeking the same goal: To win the opportunity to compete in Roland Garros.

“We’re not thinking about Roland Garros first, but we will fight more and more to get out of qualification to play in this iconic stadium,” Chamereau said.

“I am aiming for the Olympics in Paris so I was hoping to play at great venues,” Gauthier-Rat added. “But I never expected that we would have the opportunity to play in Roland Garros, it's so cool.”