2016-11-14 11:27:00 CET

Thin Beast Phil eyeing World Champs glory in 2017

Phil Dalhausser on the past, present and future of beach volleyball

There was plenty of fist-pumping from Phil in 2016. Photocredit: Martin Steinthaler.There was plenty of fist-pumping from Phil in 2016. Photocredit: Martin Steinthaler.

When it comes to beach volleyball Phil Dalhausser has been there, seen it and done it.

World Championship gold, Olympic gold, World Tour titles – you name it, he’s won it.

Last month Phil was named the FIVB’s Best Setter. It was the American’s 26th FIVB award of his career and the seventh time in the last eight years that he’s come out on top in the Best Setter category.

“I probably get the vote because I’m 6ft 9!” Phil jokes as he exclusively talks to “I’ve set so many times I’ve probably gotten quite good at it – but I’m not going to sit here and say I’m the best in the world.”

It barely seems five minutes that the 2016 season finished in Toronto – but before you know it the 2017 season will burst back into action with a trip to Fort Lauderdale in February.

It’s a beautiful part of the world that Phil knows particularly well.

“I’ve played on that beach numerous times, I remember when I first started out and played in amateur tournaments there,” says the American. “It’s a great stop for the World Tour and I love going there so it should be a good event.”

Phil prepares to serve at Swatch World Tour Finals in Fort Lauderdale in 2015. Photocredit: Andreas Langreiter.Phil prepares to serve at Swatch World Tour Finals in Fort Lauderdale in 2015. Photocredit: Andreas Langreiter.

He was a silver medalist on this very beach when he and teammate Nick Lucena lost in the final of the Swatch World Tour Finals in 2015 against Alison Cerutti and Bruno Oscar Schmidt.

But as you reel off Phil’s glittering list of tournament success and the mountain of medals you quickly get the impression that he’s a modest man – yet it’s hard not to be fascinated with this legend’s achievements in the sport.

In January, Phil will turn 37. He’s already entered veteran territory but try telling that to him and his fellow pros who were unable to stop him and Lucena from winning four of the 13 competitions they entered in the 2016 campaign, including the smart Major Hamburg in June.

And, although there’s an element of disappointment running through Phil’s voice as he talks about defeats in three finals this year – including the frustration of an early exit at the Swatch World Tour Finals and a fifth-place finish at the Olympics – he’s still pretty pumped at what he and Nick achieved in the past 12 months.

“I’m pretty proud of what we did in 2016,” Phil tells us. Nobody gave us a chance of qualifying for the Olympics but we went on a nice little run at the end of 2015 and at the beginning of 2016 and I think we played pretty well.

“Obviously it was a good feeling – but to be honest I didn’t give ourselves much of a chance either. We played just 13 events so what we did in the end was cool.

“Winning in Hamburg was a particular highlight. Nick had never won a Swatch Major Series event or a Grand Slam before so that was a big part of last year.”

Watch Phil and Nick storm to gold at the smart Major Hamburg.

Having pocketed an impressive eight medals from those 13 international tournaments on the FIVB World Tour in 2016 at the age of 36, Phil isn’t thinking of retiring – oh no. In fact he’s hungry for more success in 2017.

“Our focus is the World Championships in Vienna and the Swatch World Tour Finals,” he says. “Last season was stressful with the Olympics, and I think every year after an Olympics is a little less demanding. There’s not so much travelling but Nick and I won’t be playing in the Opens. It would be nice to, but it’s getting tougher and tougher to take off and leave the kids behind. There’s a lot of stress involved.

“But the plan for 2017 is of course the World Championships and I’d love to add another World Championship title. Yes, for sure, part of me wants to prove I can still play at a higher level as a 37-year-old.”

Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of Phil and Todd Rogers’ glorious World Championship victory in the mountains of Gstaad – one of four memories that sticks out proudly at the forefront of the Swiss-born blocker’s mind.

Naturally another one of those success stories was the breathtaking victory in the Olympic final of 2008 where Phil and Todd stormed to gold by beating Brazil’s Marcio Araujo and Fabio Luiz Magalhaes in Beijing.

Having secured the greatest achievement in beach volleyball, Phil was on top of the world. But, although the medals have continued to come since, there have been changes. Well, he’s got a little older for starters – but he’s not worrying about that right now.

“When I first started on the World Tour I was the tallest!” he laughs. “Now I’m probably the 10th tallest maybe. Beach volleyball’s definitely got bigger and it’s got better and it’s never been deeper than it has been right now.

“I played at my best when I was around 30. That’s the age Alison and Bruno are right now so I’m not surprised they’re playing so well.

“In beach volleyball you reach your peak when you’re a little older, probably when you’re about 30.

“So in terms of age I have experience over the younger guys, and, even though they might be a little bigger or are more agile than me, I have a little edge when it comes to experience and I think that’s important.”

Nick and Phil are the best of buddies on the court. Photocredit: Mihai Stetcu.Nick and Phil are the best of buddies on the court. Photocredit: Mihai Stetcu.

After a season that ended with Phil and Nick finishing fifth at the Swatch World Tour Finals in Toronto – “We were totally exhausted. We were spent,” says Phil – the goals for next season are clear.

But what, if anything, can a man like Phil Dalhausser do when you’ve won everything beach volleyball has had to offer?

“There are always areas in my game which I can improve, especially as the game has evolved a little bit in the past 10 years,” he says. “My ball control has to be better.

“It’s not frustrating growing old – I don’t think ‘I can’t do that as well anymore’. Sure, I’ve lost a few inches on my vertical [jump] – it hurts a little bit, but I’m not the kind of person that makes a big deal of it. Anyway, as I’ve got older, my ball control has got better so things even themselves out a bit.”

Another noticeable change in the game in Phil’s time on the sand has been the gradual shift in power between teams from America and South America to the competition from Europe.

Of the 30 medals that were up for grabs across the four Swatch Major Series stops and the Swatch World Tour Finals, the winning split was exactly half and half – 15 beautiful shiny, triumphant discs of precious metal each went to teams either side of the Atlantic.

“Europe has caught up with the North and South Americans,” admits Dalhausser. “There are a lot of good teams in Europe right now when it used to be dominated by Americans and Brazilians.

“I think one reason behind that is the investment by the European federations. There is now equal focus between indoor and beach volleyball. Federations are now thinking they can win two medals in beach and two in indoor at the Olympics. The resources available has now shifted to beach and that’s why there’s an influx of young talent coming out of Europe in beach volleyball right now.”

But try telling that to Dalhausser, whose last big clash against a European team in a Swatch Major Series final came in Hamburg when they crushed Dutch duo Robert Meeuwsen and Alexander Brouwer to claim gold.

Who knows what the next chapter will be for the man known as the Thin Beast – but what we do know is that it’s going to be one hell of a ride finding out…

See you in Fort Lauderdale, Phil!

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