Maldives - challenge - Beach Pro Tour 2022 - News


The most popular vacation destinations for residents of Finland are, by overwhelming majority, Sweden and Estonia. Those two countries are followed by Spain and Norway, before a steep drop-off to the left closest international destination. It is unlikely that the Maldives, an island nation in South Asia, will broach that list anytime soon, but it might, at the very least, become a regular visit for four Finns.

On Saturday evening on Sun Island, two Finnish teams, Niina Ahtiainen and Taru Lahti, and Anniina Parkkinen and Sara Sinisalo, continued their run through the Maldives Challenge, winning all four combined matches. They now comprise half of the women’s semifinals – and do so on opposite sides of the bracket. Should everything continue to go Finland’s way on Sunday morning, it could very well be an all-Finland final in the Maldives.

How unlikely is that? Of the four players still competing, only two – Lahti and Parkkinen – have ever won a medal on the international circuit, and that came with a bronze on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour in January of 2019, at the Hague four-star. Since then, not only has there not been a medal – there hasn’t even been a single semifinal made in an event higher than a one-star or Futures. Now Finland is guaranteed one medal, with the potential for two come Sunday.

It explains why, if one were to scroll the comments on their social media, the number of mind-blown emojis is, indeed, a bit mind-blowing. Lahti used four such emojis herself on a post from Parkkinen, while Sinisalo added another after writing, simply, “Wtf.” You can guess for yourself what that stands for.

Parkkinen and Sinisalo, an 18-year-old in her rookie season on the Beach Pro Tour, will have the first match, against Austria’s Lena Plesiutschnig and Katharina Schutzenhofer. Lahti and Ahtiainen will come second, against Americans Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft, the final U.S. team amongst the eight who made the trip to Sun Island.

Should there be an all-Finland final, prepare yourself when scrolling social media: the mind-blown emojis are coming.

Those won’t be just for Finland, either. The Maldives has been an exceptional run for Plesiutschnig and Schutzenhofer as well. Partners since the fall of 2017, the Austrians medalled in their second event together, winning bronze at the Sydney three-star, knocking off Tina Graudina and Anastasija Samoilova along the way. In 2018, they added two more, a silver and gold, and won the Baden one-star in 2019. But in the 20 events since, they’ve been held off the podium, and out of semifinals entirely. Like Finland, they’re seeking their first medals in three years – but will have to get through Finland to do so.


The United States, however, has been no stranger to podiums this season, nor has Stockman and Kraft, its final remaining team. They won their first international event together, a Futures in Poland earlier this summer, where they actually beat the Sinisalo sisters in the second round of pool. It has been four straight ninths since, however, and Stockman hasn’t medaled in a tournament higher than a one-star or Futures since taking a silver medal at the Warsaw four-star in 2019. They’ve won all four matches thus far in the Maldives, and are seeking the third Challenge gold medal and eighth total gold for the American women this season.