Toronto, Ontario, Canada, September 11, 2016 - The confetti swirled around Aleksandrs Samoilovs as he stood on the sand following his triumph with Janis Smedins at the A1 Major Klagenfurt at the end of July.
But that was not the only thing that fell on the players as they marched through the week on the way to the title in the small Austrian town that has become known as the Capital of Beach Volleyball.
The atmosphere of the raucous fans crowding into the stadium for a weeklong celebration of the sport was like a cloak of a soft, comfortable blanket.
“You should just feel the energy of this place. It feels like meteorites falling on top of you,” Samoilovs said. “I can’t describe it. Every point you score and the spectators scream, they feel the game, they feel the rhythm of the game. They’re not just screaming. It’s in the right moment, the right song, the right moves, so they are participating. They can’t be on court, but they’re still inside the game. They’re playing Beach Volleyball.
“You are not feeling like you are playing two against two, you feel like you are playing 1,000 against 1,000. Before entering this stadium under the court, it’s such good vibration, it feels like we are gladiators entering the arena.”
Now for the fun part. BeachMajors CEO Hannes Jagerhofer, for the second consecutive year, has the task of exporting that elusive Klagenfurt magic to another continent. This week it’s Toronto, where the SWATCH World Tour Finals will conclude with players vying for the top prize of US$100,000 per team.
Can Jagerhofer and public address announcer extraordinaire Tom Bläumauer bring that Major Series atmosphere to a winter sports country? Might be a tough task, yet few would be surprised if they do pull it off.
“When we showed the pictures at the press conference (previewing the Toronto event), everybody was asked if we did Photoshop,” Jagerhofer said. “It really showed what it looks like.
“Canada has amazing teams, men and women. Second, (Canadians) are really beach freaks. If they go to the beach (in Toronto), they have 100 courts. Nowhere in the world do you have 100 courts, not even in Brazil, not even on the West Coast. And the courts are full, they’re packed. They have a few thousand beach enthusiastic fans.”
All eight Canadian Olympians will participate, including men’s teams Josh Binstock/Sam Schachter and Chaim Schalk/Ben Saxton plus women Sarah Pavan, Heather Bansley, Kristina Valjas and Jamie Broder.
They’ll be joined by Olympic gold medalists Bruno Oscar Schmidt/Alison Cerutti of Brazil and Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst of Germany. After a one-match all-Canadian women’s trial, 12 men’s and women’s teams will take aim at the biggest payday in Beach Volleyball history, matching what was handed out in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last year in the inaugural SWATCH World Tour Finals.
Hannes Jagerhofer (center) with Rio Olympic gold medal winners Laura Ludwig (left) and Kira Walkenhorst
It’s the closing chapter on the 2015-2016 FIVB World Tour season, but in a way also serves as the jumping-off point for the 2017 calendar, which is expected to open in February with a Major Series event back in Fort Lauderdale.
So the optimism abounds for a new generation of the sport as the Tokyo 2020 Olympics cycle begins.
“If you would have asked me about it two years beforehand, I didn’t know if we could transfer this model to other countries,” Jagerhofer said. “Everybody told me it wouldn’t work because the (other countries are) sitting on their hands, they don’t like to entertain like you do, they don’t watch matches. And it’s completely opposite.”