Hamburg, Germany, June 13, 2016 – Before the first ball was served last week, smart Major Hamburg Promoter Frank Mackerodt toured the grounds of Am Rothenbaum stadium with a bit of a smile and a gleam in his eye.
By Saturday, it would not have been much of a surprise to see Mackerodt walking on air in ecstasy. And he wasn’t alone.
A country that didn’t even host an FIVB World Tour event in 2015 suddenly had a new city on its calendar and what occurred was nothing less than historic. When the athletes arrive in Brazil in August for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, no one will have forgotten what unfolded in the picturesque city for a week in early June.
“This is the best preview for the Olympic Games in Copacabana,” FIVB Director of Beach Volleyball Angelo Squeo said, hardly able to control his enthusiasm. “We had the best athletes in the world, and one of the best ambiences and energy in the history of Beach Volleyball.”Angelo Squeo (FIVB Beach Volleyball Events Director), Hannes Jagerhofer (CEO Beach Majors GmbH) and Frank Mackerodt (smart Major Hamburg Promoter) at the the Final Press Conference.
With the drama and intrigue of athletes either trying to qualify or solidify their spot in the Olympics growing with each match, fans began to fill the seats when the stadium play began on Thursday. The momentum was as palpable and unmistakable as a Misty May-Kerri Walsh Jennings winning streak.
By dawn Saturday in the smart Major Hamburg, under a bright blue sky with some puffy clouds floating through, Hamburg was treated to a Beach Volleyball rarity. For only the second time since the London 2012 Olympics, the women’s top four seeds were to compete in the semifinals.
It began building on Friday, when the German men’s teams of Markus Bockermann and Lars Fluggen plus Kay Matysik and Jonathan Erdmann would face each other in the quarterfinals, with the winner claiming an Olympic berth.
The next day, fans kept walking through the gates for the two sessions of Beach Volleyball. By the time Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst stepped onto the sand to face reigning World Champions Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas of Brazil in the championship match, there were more than 8,000 fans ready to stand, scream, chant, sing and clap.
The atmosphere became electric during a thrilling three-set match, which ended with Ludwig’s ace to the back line to claim the gold medal for her and Walkenhorst, who just happen to call Hamburg their home. Along the way, they were serenaded with chants of “Laura! Kira!”
Originally a Grand Slam event, promoter Hannes Jagerhofer, the architect of the World Tour’s most popular stop in Klagenfurt, Austria, had stepped in with his Swatch and Red Bull teams to convert Hamburg into the first Major Series event of 2016.
“For me, this is an important step,” Mackerodt said. “More media, more sponsors, we can do LED panels (surrounding the court), this is overall a very important step. I will be, if it is possible, part of the Major Series next year.”
He might want to bottle some of the potion that fired up Hamburg, something that seemed to catch the organizers by surprise. But could anyone have expected the passion from the court and the stands in a first-time event?
“No, no, never,” Jagerhofer said. “I haven’t seen this before in my life what happened here. It’s really crazy, having 8,000 people in year one on center court. You could even see and get a little bit of a feeling on Friday that it would be a great success and (Saturday) was crazy.
“And having the Germans win the final is like sending a letter to the Christkind (the Austrian yuletide gift-giver) with the wishes of your life and getting everything in one day is terrific.”Hannes Jagerhofer, CEO Beach Majors GmbH
That’s a pretty solid testimonial coming from the producer of the most popular stop on the FIVB World Tour in Klagenfurt, Austria, where crazy passion is the norm.
Not to mention Squeo’s endorsement, which included much more than what the players provided on the court. Squeo cited the “perfect organization, the warm hospitality of Hamburg, the huge attendance, the fantastic ambience.”
“It gave the FIVB the possibility to make a rehearsal for technology and for the referees, it was a great preview of the Olympics. I congratulate Hannes and Frank with their dream team as well as the city and sponsors that made possible this Swatch Major Series event.”
Mackerodt has spent a generation of promoting Beach Volleyball in Germany, seeing a fledgling sport in a soccer-mad nation gradually embrace a foreign sport. His dream, of course, was that one big event that could turn the sport into one that his compatriots would embrace.
Beach Volleyball was buoyed in Germany in 2012, when Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann teamed to bring the Olympic gold medal home. But by 2015, not even Berlin - site of the 2005 FIVB World Championships - was on the calendar.
But for the FIVB World Tour calendar in 2016, Hamburg was chosen to host an FIVB Grand Slam, yet it was more than that. The Hamburg event would be the final tournament in which players could accumulate points for Olympic qualification.
“Germany was badly missing from our calendar,” Squeo admitted. “As you know, we had the World Championships in Berlin with many events organized by Frank Mackerodt but now I see that there is a plan for the future. Germany is back.”
Before the tournament even began, Mackerodt realized his dream merely by luring the FIVB World Tour to Hamburg. He’s ready to pass that dream along to every German in the coming years.
“It will be more and more if we do it every year because a lot of people are watching and saying ‘Yes, we’re coming, it’s a great event,’ ” Mackerodt said. “If we can do it next year again there will be more people from the outside and that’s good for the town of Hamburg, they will spend money here and it will be good for everyone.”Frank Mackerodt, smart Major Hamburg Promoter