2017-11-18 09:30:00 CET
Austria’s Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst explain how they overcame a fiery start to their relationship and how it helped them win silver at their home World Championships last summer.
It was the fairytale story of a sizzling hot summer in Austria. Well, in the wonderful world of beach volleyball at least.
The 2017 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Vienna will be best remembered for two fathers defying the odds and reaching the final of one of the biggest tournaments in the sport’s history.
For 10 euphoric, sweltering days – where temperatures on the sand hit a foot-scorching 60 degrees Celsius – hundreds of thousands of delirious beach volleyball fans religiously packed the Red Bull Beach Arena grandstands and roared on their heroes to glory on the picturesque Danube Island.
That unrivalled support and unconditional love paid dividends. And while it wasn’t the ultimate of storybook happy endings, it was – nevertheless – one which had a silver lining for Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst.
For Austria’s famous beach volleyball sons, the silver medal swinging from their necks was one which enabled them to reflect that their five-year partnership was all worth it.
What’s more, for these two friends, whose bond first formed 20 years ago, their achievement on home sand also acted as a reminder of the times when, years before, they were at loggerheads on the sand. It’s what happened when two “alpha-males” joined forces in the hope of taking the FIVB World Tour by storm.
When two tribes go to war
“There were a lot of fights and arguments in the first few years,” Clemens, who turned 37 in September, tells us. “There were a lot of discussions. I think you’d describe both of us as alpha-males – in our previous teams we were both considered the ‘alpha-male’. All of a sudden, there was one team containing two of these characters and we clashed. There were two strong personalities crushing against each other – one having his opinion, and the other having his.”
Alex agrees. “I used to always be the boss on court in my previous teams,” says the 34-year-old. We are talking on the phone but you sense he’s affording a wry smile. “I think I know the game, and I think I know what to do and how to do it. It was difficult at first to accept that someone else was telling me what to do.
“But we both knew we were more or less the same kind of person, though. For sure at the beginning it wasn’t easy to find the perfect way that everyone was okay with but, as we grew older, we got better and now the situation is really fine.”
It’s fair to say the current state of their partnership, which will stretch into its sixth season in 2018, is more than just ‘fine’. The sparkling silver medal at the World Championships was testament to more than just the typical ‘blood, sweat and tears’ many athletes often thanks afterwards – but, instead, down to family values and friendship.
“The last two or three years have been very good, we’re almost don’t fight any more!” laughs Clemens. “At the World Championships you could see that it was written like a fairytale. All of those good fights, bad fights, good discussions, bad discussions put us in the right direction. There were so many situations in the past that helped and where we needed to push each other on court.
“You could see those things playing out during the critical moments on the court with us beside each other – and I honestly think we would have finished 17th or ninth if we weren’t such good friends.
“It was important – perfect – and our friendship helped a lot. We always knew we were good players but the proof of working on our relationship came through in Vienna.”
The more the merrier
As both admit it, things didn’t get off to the best of starts. However, a constant presence throughout the beachside bickering was one important person: their coach, and friend, former Austrian beach volleyball star, Robert Nowotny.
Both Doppler and Horst explain that without Nowotny’s influence they would never have gone onto achieve on the sand what they did so brilliantly last summer.
“We had luck that Robert was our coach, he was perfect for us,” says Clemens. “The three of us grew together and Robert was the mentor and mediator of our discussions. Alex respected Robert – it wouldn’t have worked otherwise.”
And that assistance from their coach, Horst believes, is one of the key reasons behind their success in a country that has become famous throughout the beach volleyball world, despite being landlocked in the middle of Europe miles from a sandy coastline.
“That’s definitely been our secret,” reveals Horst. “It’s important that we’re all friends. At the start, Robert helped us overcome those difficult moments – and he still is. Now, with age and experience, we know what works and what doesn’t.
“Now, we’ve now been playing together for so long that it’s fun – and that’s also a big secret why we still love to play.”
So, is it a must that your partner is one you have to get on well with?
In both of the minds of Alex and Clemens, there is no doubt.
“For me it’s not possible to play with someone I don’t like or who I cannot go out for dinner with,” says father-of-two, Horst. “I spend so much time with this person that, if I don’t like him, I can’t have fun. It’s important to do more than just play beach volleyball.”
Interestingly, for three-time Olympian Clemens, his view of the matter has changed over time. “If you had asked me eight years ago I would have told you there was no need for chemistry in a beach volleyball team,” he admits. “I used to be a beach bitch, always complaining. But a lot has changed. Yes, Alex and I clashed, but the older you get the more patient you become.
“Now I know for sure that you need chemistry for a team to work. On the court, of course it helps if both players are talented but, in those critical moments during a game, it’s important that you can trust the person next to you. You need that trust. I’m not saying it’s 100 per cent absolutely necessary that you need to get on with your partner… but I think it helps when you’re spending 200 days together sleeping in the same hotel room.”
Having played 51 international tournaments side-by-side since their first together in Myslowice in Poland back in April 2012, Alex and Clemens have come a long way.
But while there is still the occasional disagreement that has to be refereed by coach Nowotny, the relationship the pair now enjoy is simply strengthened whenever they are in each other’s company away from the sand.
“After the World Tour Finals in Hamburg and the season finished, many teams went their separate ways and probably wanted a break from each other. Instead we all went on holiday together,” says Horst, father to daughter Alessa, five, and son Fabio, four. “We are more or less a little family.”
“I’m already looking forward to travelling, playing and practicing with Alex next season,” adds Clemens, who has a three-year-old daughter, Lilli.
“During the season we’re always together. At breakfast, when some teams eat individually, we’ll wait for each other. In the evenings, we’ll have dinner, have fun, play dice poker. I’ll beat him and he’ll think he’s won – and that’s how it works between us.
“Sure we’ll still argue, but we’ve found a way how to deal with it and it helps when you know each other so well and have become good friends.”