08.01.2019 - World Champs Hamburg
Beach volleyball’s most decorated duo in recent history are no more after Kira Walkenhorst’s shock retirement at the age of 28.
Together with Laura Ludwig, Kira won 11 gold medals on the international beach scene, three silvers and four bronzes. The partnership were among the most fearsome and consistent in the sport, dominating the podium when they really hit their stride between 2016 and 2017.
But which ranks their best achievements? Here’s our five favorites moments from the careers of Kira and Laura.
Although they were among one of the favorites to win a medal, most beach fans expected either Larissa/Talita or Agatha/Barbara to make the most of home advantage and win gold on Rio sand in 2016. However, arriving in Brazil in top form, it was Laura and Kira who swept all before them on their way to Germany’s second Olympic gold after Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann’s success in London in 2012.
After breezing through the group stages, Laura and Kira got the better of seasoned pairs Isabelle Forrer and Anouk Vergé -Dépré and Heather Bansley and Sarah Pavan to reach the semifinals. Top seeds and favorites Larissa/Talita were beaten in the last four which set up a gold medal match against Agatha/Barbara and, in the face of strong home support, Laura and Kira needed 40 minutes to win their first Olympic title. Seven matches and not a single set dropped – this was the moment the pair really announced their names to the world.
Injury had restricted both Kira and Laura’s time on the sand in the run up to the 2017 World Championships in Vienna. The pair had played just three tournaments before the showdown in Vienna, finishing ninth (twice) and fifth.
However, all of that was forgotten in the Austrian capital. Topping a group containing two other German teams, the pair cruised into the knockout phase where they saw off the charge of China’s Fan Wang and Yuan Yue. Two victories of American teams Claes/Hughes and Ross/Sweat booked them a spot in the semifinals. Larissa and Talita were once more the challengers but stood no chance as the Germans again got the job done in straight sets.
In the gold medal match, the favorites looked in trouble, losing the first set to April Ross and Lauren Fendrick. But, roared on by thousands of German fans in the crowd, the pair stormed back to take the second set and the decider to claim gold and their maiden World Championship title.
Laura and Kira traveled to the end-of-season showdown in Canada with Olympic, national and European gold medals already in their pockets. As they chased another prize, it looked as though their exploits from a long and exhausting season had caught up with them as they lost both pool matches on Polson Pier.
In the knockout phase, things looked just as tough for the pair but on two occasions they won in three sets to advance to, yes, you guessed it, another semifinal meeting against Larissa/Talita. A straight sets win over the Brazilians set-up an all-European gold medal match, in which Kira and Laura eased past Joana Heidrich and Nadine Zumkehr to win their first World Tour Finals title and complete a truly remarkable season.
Having triumphed around all corners of the globe, and with Olympic and World titles already in the bag, the one thing the Laura and Kira wanted more than anything after their Olympic and World success 2017 was to win the World Tour Finals on home sand.
A month after their World title in Vienna, Laura and Kira returned to Hamburg to a heroes’ welcome and with a packed Rothenbaum behind them, the duo made it back-to-back World Tour Finals golds. Old rivals Larissa/Talita were beaten again in pool play, but their most impressive performance came in the semifinal against an in-form Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes.
However, they had to dig deep in the final against Brazilians Agatha and Duda. With the pressure mounting to win gold, and with Kira struggling with injury, this match was arguably their biggest test in recent times. After winning the first set they were pegged back in the second but, with the help of a capacity crowd, the golden girls took the decider to spark scenes of wild celebrations inside the iconic tennis arena – and secure first place on the podium on home sand.
The Rio Olympics loomed large before Austria’s legendary tournament on the banks of Lake Wörthersee, and as a result, a number of high profile teams – especially from North and South America – decided to stay away to concentrate on their preparation for Rio. Not Laura and Kira. Knowing that a special atmosphere lay in wait, the team headed to Carinthia looking for gold having taken bronze at the Gstaad Major two weeks before.
Things did not go immediately to plan for the Germans, however, as they suffered a shock defeat in their opening pool play game, going down in straight sets to American college starlets Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes. That defeat only served to galvanize Laura and Kira as they marched their way all the way to the final where they saw off the challenge of Switzerland’s Joana Heidrich and Nadine Zumkehr in three sets.