26.06.2019 - Hamburg
When Clemens Doppler steps out on to court two on Friday with partner Alex Horst to take on Italian wildcards Alex Ranghieri and Marco Caminati, the Austrian will make a little bit of history.
For the blocker will equal the record of competing in 10 successive World Championships - the only beach volleyball player currently active on the World Tour to do so.
“That makes me feel old,” laughs Doppler, a three-time Olympian, who turns 39 in September. “I remember my first, in Klagenfurt n 2001. I was 20 and I was very far away from being a professional athlete. I was only really playing for fun. After that, every year got more fun...”
Clemens’ appearance in Hamburg also means he will draw level with legendary Brazilian Emanuel Rego in being one of only two players in history to have competed in 10 world championships.
“He’s one of the top three names in the history of our sport and always will be – to be named in the same sentence as Emanuel and to equal a record with him is something that makes me very proud.”
Yet Clemens’ smile after he had uttered that final word tells only half of the story.
Ten World Championship appearances is not a bad record – and not bad company to join – for a player who recounts seven operations on his knee in his 18-year pro career – three of which on his ACL.
After career-saving surgery Doppler, knows more than anyone the importance to embrace every moment on the sand. His comeback every time we went under the knife makes it even more remarkable. Laughing in the face of those who doubted he could come back and compete after so many times in the operating theatre.
“I always stood up again and came back because I have so much love for the sport,” says Clemens.
“For sure there’s a lot of luck involved. I was only ever out injured for one year and for some reason, this never happened during a time when there was a world champs.
“A record like that also shows consistency, too. You need to be among the best in the world with your results to even qualify for the event so, yeah, I’m pretty proud of that.
“It’s also been something very special to witness the growth of the game. I’ve been at the past nine world champs so I’ve seen how far it’s come. In Vienna two years ago, the roof was blown off: there’s been a lot of World Championships to compare it with but the last one was one of the best.”
To be fair to him, Clemens isn’t just saying that because of what happened on the court. Two years ago, over 180,000 people swarmed to the event location on Vienna’s Danube Island and goosebumps certainly did not lie.
But, what did happen on the sand surpassed everyone’s expectations. Including his own. With Alex alongside him the duo went all the way to the final, won silver and created memories that will live with them forever.
As World Championship moments go, it doesn’t get much better than that. Expectations on the duo in Hamburg is a tough act to follow.
“My previous best finish was ninth – and for a world champs that’s not a bad finish, but of course what happened in Vienna, well it was a fairytale,” reflects Doppler.
“We’ve always been ready for the big tournaments; Olympics, world champs, Euros, and always done well. We’ve always been ready but we head into this year’s tournament as the reigning silver medalists, which means to go one better would be to win gold. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible, but we’ll go to Hamburg looking to just enjoy ourselves. Our goal is always a top-10 finish but enjoying yourself, every moment, is important. That’s the key to playing well.”
After all, given his experience he knows better than anyone.
So after what happened in Vienna in 2017, what does Doppler think of the chances of top German team Clemens Wickler and Julius Thole when the young home stars into the Red Bull Beach Arena on Friday?
“I think they’re going to go far,” admits Clemens. “I see myself a little in those young guys right now when I their age.
“It’s their first World Championships, they’re playing at home. In the World Tour Finals in 2018 they clearly enjoyed playing in front of the big crowd. They reached the semi-finals, played great, loved the crowd. They’re young, they have no pressure. They’re not quite yet winning medals consistently on the World Tour so there’s no expectation or pressure that they have to prove themselves to anyone.
“Julius looks like a shy guy. On the court he’s there. He has attitude. That’s the perfect mix for a World Championship at home.”
From Klagenfurt to the Rothenbaum, Olympics and operations in between, it’s been an unforgettable journey for Clemens – and he’s not ready to get off the rollercoaster just yet.