2018-07-24 16:36:00 CEST
The Germans won their first World Tour medal together this month and are eager to compete in the big stage
After Anders Mol and Christian Sørum won both the Swatch Major Gstaad and the European Championships in the last two weeks, you might have asked yourself: ‘When was the last time these Norwegian kids lost a game?’
You might not know the answer, but Clemens Wickler and Julius Thole certainly do. After all, the German up-and-comers were the last ones to take the Beach Volley Vikings down, in the quarterfinals of the World Tour four-star Espinho event in the first week of July.
Many could see it as a sort of a random and surprising result, but if you take a closer look at what happened in Portugal that week you’ll probably view it differently as Wickler and Thole also defeated other top teams, such as USA’s Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena and Brazil’s Alison Cerutti/Andre Loyola and Evandro Goncalves/Vitor Felipe on their way to the bronze medal, their first together in the World Tour.
“Winning the bronze medal has been our biggest success so far,” the 21-year-old, 2.09m-tall Thole told beachmajorseries.com. “It gave us a lot of self-confidence to win against such experienced top teams. We hope that will make us calmer in crucial situations moving forward. But we won’t get dazzled by this result, there’s still a lot of work to do to reach the level of the world class teams.”
Bronze medal in Espinho 😄😊😊 Our first World Tour Medal as a Team :) soooooo happy!!!! #bronze #beachvolleyball #portugeil #fivb #tholewicklerontour #keepgrowing #bettertogether
462 Likes, 14 Comments - Clemens Wickler (@clemenswickler) on Instagram: "Bronze medal in Espinho 😄😊😊 Our first World Tour Medal as a Team :) soooooo happy!!!! #bronze..."
Wickler, 23, and Thole are a new German team formed for the 2018 season. The young partners have had some recent success lately, getting top-10 finishes in the last three four-star tournaments they played at, but it hasn’t been always like that.
Their first months together weren’t as good as they had just one top-20 finish in their seven tournaments together, including a 41st-place at the Fort Lauderdale Major.
“Our start of season was in some ways as we expected,” the blocker added. “We were a young team with little experience in the international level. We needed time to get used to each other, to find an efficient communication on the court and to get the confidence to beat the top teams. In Ostrava we won a really tight qualification match against Koekelkoren/van Walle and after that we played pretty consistently on a higher level.”
Wickler, an Under-19 world champion in 2013, and Thole combine for just 50 World Tour events between them, but the international experience they might be lacking can be found everywhere around their coaching staff.
The duo is coached by Slovakian veteran Martin Olejnak, a four-time Olympian, and is constantly surrounded by German stars Julius Brink, Markus Dieckmann and Eric Koreng. Each of them has at least one Olympic appearance, with Brink winning gold in London 2012, and a minimum of 80 World Tour events under their belts.
“Each of them is so important to us,” Wickler acknowledged. “We’ve both been working with Markus for year and we feel like we speak the same beach volleyball language. With just a few words we know what he wants.
“Eric works with us within the National Team and he’s a very meticulous guy. And with Julius, he supports us every now and then, gives us advice. It goes without saying that you can listen to someone like that and be thankful for some guidance.”
And from the past idols comes the inspiration to hopefully change the course of men’s beach volleyball in Germany. The country was a dominant force in the sport in the hands of Brink and his former partner Jonas Reckermann, but since they retired, the level has not been the same.
Since 2014, when Jonathan Erdmann and Kay Matysik were 10th, the country hasnt't had a team in the top-10 in the world rankings. Wickler and Thole see themselves as part of the change process, but they are confident other teams will also play an important role in lifting the sport in their country.
“In recent years there has been a lot of unrest in Germany,” Wickler agreed. “Good teams have split, good players have retired. It has been a kind of new beginning for one and half years and we believe that there will be better times again. We are both ambitious enough to be even the ones who want to make beach volleyball strong again for the men in Germany, but there are plenty of other players who could do that.”
Next week, the Germans will have the opportunity to play in the main draw of a Beach Major Series event together for the first time in the A1 Major Vienna presented by Swatch. They have never played in the city before, but they know exactly what to expect as they watched last year’s World Championships very closely.
“Vienna is one of the coolest or maybe the coolest event that you can play as a beach volleyball player,” Wickler says. “We are super happy to be able to compete directly in the main draw. And our goal is to do well there. After the four-stars come the five-stars and that is the next step for us.”