2018-07-24 11:00:00 CEST
Clemens Doppler and Alex Horst on their return to Vienna
A year after winning a silver medal at their home World Championships, Austria’s number one beach volleyball team are heading back to the scene of their most memorable tournament – Vienna’s Danube Island – for the A1 Major Vienna presented by Swatch this August.
Return to the Island
Austrian beach volleyball legends Clemens Doppler and Alex Horst came close to grabbing gold in Vienna last year - will they be crowned kings of the Island this time? #ViennaMajor 1. - 5.8.2018 http://at.beachmajorseries.com/ https://www.facebook.com/BeachMajorSeries/ https://www.instagram.com/beachmajorseries http://twitter.com/beachmajors
It was an Austrian fairy tale that captured the hearts of a nation. Followers of the future were losing themselves in the heady atmosphere of the Red Bull Beach Arena. Never before had they witnessed such spine-tingling drama. Side-by-side in the packed stands, young fans embraced the old, new friendships were forged, unforgettable memories created.
This was the summer of love in Vienna, and those throw-your-hands-in-the-air moments belonged to an Austrian beach volleyball team at the 2017 Beach Volleyball World Championships.
A year ago, beach volleyball fever gripped Vienna, and at the center of it all were two fathers, Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst. For 10 extraordinary days in the Austrian capital, thousands of fans from all corners of Europe flocked to see the fairy tale unfold. With home advantage on their side, Clemens and Alex bulldozered their way through to the final of their home World Championship tournament – and won silver.
It was a rollercoaster of a ride. Alex and Clemens were sat directly at the front of it. Behind them were the 10,000 fans inside the arena plus those millions watching – and screaming – from their television sets. You know you’re witnessing something special when fans are jumping out of their seats, simulating beach volleyball moves; up for block, or out to the side, digging a ball to safety.
For Doppler and Horst, now in their seventh season as a team, it’s time to do it all over again. This summer, Austria’s favorite beach volleyball sons will aim to recreate their (almost) perfect moment at the A1 Major Vienna presented by Swatch, which begins August 1 on the Danube Island.
Whatever happens this year, the pair will always have last year. It’s something that Horst, a proud Viennese, will never forget.
“We have great memories of last year, the greatest for me as a beach volleyball player,” says Alex. The 35-year-old grew up in Vienna. This is his city. “To have a home World Championships here and to win silver, in front of an unbelievable audience and spread the love of the sport, was incredible.
“It captured the imagination of grandmothers and grandfathers, people who have never watched the sport before. They were like ‘wow, this is great’ and that’s a sign for sure that what we did was a good thing.
“What happened was a big deal. A home World Championships is a once in a life-time chance. We were happy to have had success and played in front of thousands of fans plus our families. I don’t know what to say, it was so emotional. Especially as fathers, when we had our children running around on the court. I was really proud, and I still am.”
But now Alex and Clemens have a problem. It’s one which comes in the shape of 10,000 beach volleyball obsessed fans wanting more. After a World Championship silver medal, expectation is high. Yet it was the support they received from those in the stands that spurred them on. That kept them going when staying in the tournament was on the line. For these beach veterans and now legends, the extra cheers don’t bring extra fears.
Expectation? What expectation?
“We know it would be difficult to be in every final now,” laughs Clemens, who is 37 and recently surpassed 600 matches on the international beach volleyball tour. “In close games we have confidence that we can still win, even when we’re down.
“It’s a positive atmosphere and the performance of the athletes and the fans – you have grandpas sitting next to naked fans in the stand. You’d never expected that situation, there aren’t many sports where there are parties in the stand and where you can bring your friends and family. It’s a mix of sport and audience, beach volleyball is unique like that and that always plays a big part in that people recognize sport is for everyone.
“This year, will be even bigger than last year. It was a big success – not just for us, but the amount of young kids calling the institute and wanting to start playing beach volleyball. I think we’ve inspired a lot of people, especially the young people, usually everyone wants to play soccer – now the youngsters want to start playing beach volleyball. This is what we want – to get kids playing beach volleyball and having a good time. Aside from the medal, the fact we could play a part in wanting kids to play.”
Teamwork makes the dream work
Following their helter-skelter exploits 12 months ago, Clemens and Alex’s mantra is ‘anything is possible’. Given their record in the Austrian capital, it’s hard to find an argument against their happy confidence. This, after all, is their sand.
Together with coach, former Olympian Robert Nowotny, the team are doing everything they can to ensure they are at their best for what many believe to be the biggest sporting event in Austria this summer.
“We won’t be going to the final tournament before Vienna in Tokyo,” explains Clemens. “We’ll prepare right, we don’t want any jetlag. Mentally and physically we want to be able to play at a good level in Vienna. We’ll practice with some good teams who will come here earlier to keep us in shape. If anything beach volleyball itself will play the smallest part. We’ll be weightlifting and working on our physical strength, running and on the bike. They’ll also be a lot of hours of therapy which is a major part when you getting older.”
As far as preparation goes, Alex admits he doesn’t count the calories. But you won’t catch him eating a Wiener schnitzel either. The three-time Olympian is, however, expecting the memories of last year to come flooding back when he steps out onto the sand again on the Danube Island.
“For me the only difference is that it’s not a World Championships, it’s Major,” he says. “We didn’t expect the crowds last year, but now we’re expecting the crowds from the first day and we’re really looking forward to it.
“We had such an unbelievable story last year we just can’t wait for the day to return. We’ve already been back to the site a few times and when you stand there you still get goosebumps.
“As for expectation, I’ve already joked saying we’ve never been worse than second in Vienna. We want to play at our best. If we can then anything is possible.”
Goosebumps don’t lie
It’s been a landmark year for the pair that has seen them carry the hopes of a nation and realize a dream by playing in aWorld Championship final. They’ve also conquered their fears, rising 215 feet in the air above Vienna for the Serve the Sky promotional shoot for the tournament. And Alex really doesn’t do heights.
While another medal is the aim for Clemens, it won’t be the end of the world if it’s not written in the stars this summer like it was last year. All he wants to see during the week of world class beach volleyball is people smiling.
“I’m really looking forward to going back to the Danube Island and excited to see the event return,” he says. “I’d like it to be for a whole month as the atmosphere is so great. I know the stands will be full and the athletes will show that there’s a great atmosphere.
“It’s going to be massive – everyone is probably expecting us to be in the final but we know it’s very difficult. You just want to enjoy yourself, like we did last year. Of course there’s pressure but we showed we could deal with it. That’s the secret to going far. Enjoyment. The biggest goal is to have fun and soak up the energy the crowd are giving us.”
Vienna has been voted the world’s most livable city for eight years in a row. However, for five days in the Austrian capital, you can be sure Alex and Clemens will be doing everything they can to ensure for an uncomfortable ride for their opponents. And they’ll be doing so with a passionate home crowd behind them.
One thing’s for sure, get ready to feel the goosebumps.