He has three kids, no longer plays professional volleyball on a full-time schedule and recently had a knee scoped to clean up "wear and tear" from 15 productive years as one of the top players in the game.

But make no mistake — folks who show up at the John Labatt Centre May 25-26 for the Canadian men's volleyball team's crucial World League encounter with Finland will see homecoming Londoner Paul Duerden at his high-flying best. The 32-year-old Oakridge grad, who has been regarded as the world's best right-side hitter, is on a final mission to push his country to the only volleyball accomplishment that has eluded him — a berth at the Olympic Games in 2008 at Beijing, China.

"I feel great — I just got back from Japan, played every match and finished ninth in scoring at Worlds," said Duerden, who made a pit stop in London yesterday to promote next year's event here. "We were ranked 12th going in and we finished 11th — one spot better than expected." The six-foot-three ball-blaster has played for Canada in London only once before — a 2002 friendly win over Argentina at a jam-packed Alumni Hall — but the preliminary round of the World League is altogether different.

"It's definitely not friendly — you have the best volleyball teams in the world and there's money on the line ($20 million in prize money was distributed among 16 team this past year) so it's a totally different level of intensity," Duerden said. "I'm really interested to see how it works out because the John Labatt Centre is the perfect venue for matches like this."

The World League is the perfect stage for Olympic-hungry Duerden and his Canadian mates to hone their skills heading into qualifying next fall. The global circuit is critical because it's guaranteed matches against quality competition. "We missed making it in the past and it killed us because if you're not able to play against teams like Russia and Brazil on a regular basis, you're not going to be at your best when you start Olympic qualifying," Duerden said. "That's my goal — getting us (to China). I've been in last-chance qualifying three times — we've been that close — and we've lost them all."

To commit to the goal, Duerden has moved to national team headquarters in Winnipeg for the next two years until the current Olympic cycle concludes. Though he is through with high-level pro volleyball as a career, he is off to Izmir, Turkey to play in that country's domestic league for a couple of months to stay fresh for all-important 2007.

from volleyball.ca