Hamburg, Germany, June 7, 2016 - If students’ grades at the University of Hamburg suffer a bit this week, Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst will be glad to take at least some of the blame.
For the first time, Hamburg is the center of the Beach Volleyball world on the FIVB World Tour with the US$800,000 smart Major Hamburg in town just steps away from school. Not to mention steps away from some German sports fun in general.
It’s the adopted hometown of Ludwig and Walkenhorst and they expect their fans to give them a rousing sendoff as they continue their march to the Rio 2016 Olympics.
“Just having the tournament in Germany is amazing and having it now in Hamburg, I’m living here for almost 10 years and I just love this city,” Ludwig said Tuesday after she and Walkenhorst met the media. “The people are really about sports, they love sports.”
Perhaps German sports fans in general were disappointed that Hamburg residents vote in a referendum to withdraw their city from bidding for the 2024 Olympics, but they will have a taste of this year’s Olympians when the best players around the world converge on the Am Rothenbaum tennis stadium for the year’s first Swatch Major Series event.
“It will definitely be a great tournament,” Ludwig said. “The place is amazing - the tennis stadium, the surroundings, I love the Rothenbaum, I like to be here, the restaurants and bars are close to the city as well.
“The university is here so they will come probably, watching the sport rather than going to classes.”
But they also get to see Ludwig and Walkenhorst, who enter the week ranked fourth in the world in the Provisional Olympic Standings. They will be considered one of the favorites on Copacabana Beach this summer.
The smart Major Hamburg is the final event in which teams can accumulate Olympic points to earn a bid by becoming one of the top 17 teams in the world. Ludwig and Walkenhorst have clinched their spot and the battle for Germany’s second spot in the Olympic Games comes down to a duel between No. 9 Karla Borger and Britta Buthe and No. 10 Katrin Holtwick and Ilke Semmler. One of those two teams will not be able to realize their Olympic dream because of the quote of two teams per country, and No. 15 Chantal Laboureur and Julia Sude are also out of luck.
The competition among the German women is comparable to that of Brazil or the United States, but Ludwig is not surprised by the fierce competition in retrospect.
“From the beginning it was going to be four teams fighting for two spots and it was going to be tough, but that shows our quality in Germany in beach volleyball,” Ludwig said. “It’s very strong and we have four teams in the first 17. That’s huge.
“That happened from our young years already when Beach Volleyball had not only international but national (competition) because you needed to fight every single day, every single competition to be in the tournament.
“When we were young, we learned how to compete and how to fight.”
And Ludwig and Walkenhorst are happy to let the other teams battle it out. Simply based on the media turnout at Am Rothenbaum on Tuesday, where a contingent of more than 50 members of the press descended on the duo’s press conference.
“It was pretty clear we could qualify earlier, that’s why I wasn’t thinking so much about it,” Ludwig said of playing in Hamburg. “It was just more about the other teams thinking about that. I just loved they chose to play here and even that it’s a Major Series and the quality got bigger. And I really wanted to play in my hometown without pressure. That would be a big pressure thing in the hometown to have to qualify.”
This year will be the third Olympiad for Ludwig, who teamed with Sara Niedrig to reach Beijing 2008 (ninth place) and London 2012 (fifth place). It is the first Olympic experience for Walkenhorst, who has recovered fully from a knee injury that limited her to only four tournaments in 2014, a year after she was the FIVB Rookie of the Year and Most Improved Player.
“Even being with a different partner the motivation is big because we wanted to see if we could work our way as one of the top teams, and it worked,” Ludwig said. “We could show we can be in the final and even win a tournament. That’s big motivation.
“Kira is definitely stronger. Everybody’s who had an injury knows it’s really difficult to have the patience to wait and work hard and come back and not think about the injury anymore. She did a great job dealing with all of the things. It’s impressive.”