Bat the first trial tournament in Utrecht, “it was compulsory to have a beer” if you lost your place on the winning side. This is how Wilco Nijland, creator of the format of “King of the Court”, remembers the founding myth of his beach volleyball variant. Back then, 25 teams played against and with each other on one pitch. It was correspondingly funny. But the idea itself was fun.
In just six years, the format has now established itself as a recognized form of play, the regulations have been modified, and the beer has been cancelled. Only five teams are required at the same time. They compete in a round – with two duos always facing each other at the net while everyone else waits on the sidelines for their turn. The team that makes a mistake has to leave their seat and go to the back. Whoever wins the rally, scores, may stay – and try to defy the next challenger. Next please!
A match lasts a maximum of 15 minutes. A maximum of eight seconds may elapse between two rallies. At 15 points it’s over. It’s breathless cardio training on sand, with constantly new game situations that even high-performance athletes demand. From this Thursday onwards, the beach format will be performed on the Heiligengeistfeld in Hamburg – prize money of 110,000 dollars will be awarded to 15 teams each for women and men. “It’s a lot of fun,” enthuses Clemens Wickler, 2019 World Cup runner-up in classic beach volleyball, about the “King” variant. Because the opponent changes with every rally, the players are also extremely technically and tactically challenged. The fact that the level sometimes drops a little may be due to the breathless hectic pace – but this is made up for by the sustained action and excitement.
Wilco Nijland, a former beach volleyball player himself and now head of the Sportworx agency, developed the first test event in Utrecht in 2017. The breakthrough came in 2020. Corona slowed down the success story, but didn’t stop it. The format became established at tournaments in Doha and Hamburg, Rio and Miami. The first world champions will be crowned at the beginning of September this year at the “Royal Championships” in Rotterdam.
The rapid rise from the beer idea to the World Cup competition was made possible by the cooperation with the World Volleyball Association, which recognized the opportunities offered by the variant. It is already being discussed whether an Olympic discipline could also arise from this. “There are many sports in which you have several chances of winning medals,” says Wickler about the appeal of the doubled opportunities: “That would also be a cool thing for us.”
One who is already an Olympic champion and yet not averse to new ideas acts as an ambassador for beach volleyball at the tournament in St. Pauli: Julius Brink. The now 40-year-old appears as a field reporter and sees himself as the “link” between players and audience. “It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the format,” he says. Brink likes flat hierarchies and is happy that the players are involved in the development of the variant.
For his first tournament in 2017, Nijland sent out invitations by email to athletes to convince them of the idea. Former European champion Aleksandrs Samoilovs of Latvia replied within five minutes: “Anything new? We’re in.” In the meantime, in addition to wildcards, the world rankings also decide who is allowed to play. In Hamburg, Olympic champions Anders Mol and Christian Sorum from Norway are the headliners. Wickler leads the German delegation together with Nils Ehlers. And the now 38-year-old Samoilovs is still playing alongside Jānis Šmēdiņš.
For women, Olympic champions Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst are at the forefront of the movement, albeit on different sides. While Kira Walkenhorst plays “for fun” alongside Anna Behlen, Laura Ludwig is preparing for her fifth Olympic Games with Louisa Lippmann. Ludwig, who is still ambitious, is playing for Hamburger SV, but two other Germans are enjoying their home game: Julia Sude and Isabel Schneider are playing for FC St. Pauli and are already looking forward to the party afterwards – and whether as king or queen, it’s on the Reeperbahn ultimately doesn’t matter.