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Spain big surprises in women’s volleyball at University Games

BANGKOK Thailand

The Spanish women’s volleyball team is the big surprise at the World University Games, upsetting Russia and Brazil to qualify for the quarterfinals in first place in its group.

Spain bounced back from an early lapse to beat host Thailand in four sets and qualify for the eight-team knockout stage with a 3-0 record.

Spain, which plays Poland in the quarterfinals on Tuesday, has a 9-2 set record.

“We were surprised because for the first time, we beat three teams whom we’ve never beaten,” said Spain coach Aurelio Urena.

Spain is already assured of finishing better than its last University Games in 2005 at Turkey, where it placed ninth.

“Even though we are playing so well now, we don’t want to think ahead too much,” Urena said.

CANDLELIT HOLIDAY: Queen Sirikit’s birthday celebrations on Sunday and Monday extended to the Athletes’ Village at the University Games, where athletes and officials met to honor Thailand’s queen.

The queen’s birthday was Sunday Mother’s Day in Thailand but was celebrated officially on Monday due to the holiday falling on a weekend.

Hundreds of athletes joined in a candle lighting ceremony held at the village.

Candles are used as a traditional gesture in Thailand to offer blessings to a senior member of one’s family. The candle lighting ceremonies even extended to streets along Bangkok’s usually rowdy Patpong area.

SHOOTING GOLD: A monthlong training camp in Bangalore helped Indian shooter Harveen Sarao hit the mark at the World University Games. The 21-year-old Sarao won gold in the women’s 10-meter air pistol at the games, and hopes to make her country’s Olympic team next year.

“My dream is to win a gold medal in the Olympics,” Sarao said. “Of course I am happy to win gold, but I am not pleased with my score as I was aiming at getting higher than that.”

India’s shooting coach Mohinder Lal said Sarao, who has been shooting for four years and is about to complete her studies in arts at Punjab University Chandigarh, has a good chance of making the Indian team for Beijing next year.

THE DISCOUNTED GAMES: Lower than expected crowds around Thammasat University, where many of the World University Games events are being held, have resulted in losses for souvenir vendors on the campus about 50 kilometers (30 miles) outside Bangkok.

Risa Boonmee, 28, sells jeweled T-shirts, many emblazoned with elephants, the historical symbol of Thailand.

“Since the first day (of the games), we had few customers,” Risa said. “We thought there would be more. We’re very disappointed.”

She said she attempts to offer discounts to foreigners.

“But they think I’m selling our shirts at a higher price,” she said. “I sold shirts at higher prices to Thais. About 40 percent of the foreigner customers are friendly, the rest not.”

Her shirts normally cost 320 baht (US$10.15, euroeuro 7.43), but she has discounted them by about a dollar. She’s paying 5,000 baht (US$159, euro116) to hire the stall for the duration of the games.

Sarnthoon Kulthai, 37, sells airbrushed tattoos of the games’ logo and zodiac signs. He said the small crowds could be a result of the political situation.

“After the coup d’etat last year, the Thai economy isn’t doing well,” said Sarnthoon. “It will get better after the elections.”

“If last year’s government was in power, there would be more people at the games. They would have done a better job promoting the games.”

Regardless, he’s stuck at his stall until Saturday when the games end.

“I’m not making any money but I have no choice,” said Sarnthoon. “I have to stay here until the end. I discount a lot.”

– Associated Press Writer Julie Payne contributed to this report.

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