Fort Lauderdale, United States, October 1, 2015 - They both have that twinkle in their eye, and they’ll mess with you in a second, but in a good-natured way.
They’ll have you smiling, if not laughing, in no time.
Don’t ever be fooled. Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst will also compete to the last grain of sand on the beach and they just might get to show their serious side in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
To the German duo, the word “fight” comes as easy as making fun of anyone in their way. There’s a reason why they’ve won three matches without a defeat in pool play of the Swatch FIVB World Tour Finals this week.
“Here playing the best of the best, we definitely knew we had to play hard matches and we need to fight a lot and you could see yesterday and that we need to fight a lot,” Ludwig said. “We got two victories in two sets because we went point to point and never wanted to lose a battle.”
“She has fun always,” Walkenhorst said. “She is hard working and keeps focused, but she is always being funny. It’s nice to play with her.”
The 29-year-old Ludwig and the 24-year-old Walkenhorst hooked up for the 2013 season, just after Ludwig’s second Olympic appearance. How did the partnership become solidified? Well, prepare for a fight.
“We’re fighting about this actually,” Ludwig said. “I think she wrote me a message first and then I was calling her. I definitely would have asked her.”
And the other side of the story?
“She contacted me,” Walkenhorst insisted. “After the German championships in 2012 I went with my old partner to an open tournament and then (Ludwig) was calling me and asking me about playing and I said I will.”
Apparently, they’ll have to agree to disagree but there is no doubt about the success of the partnership.
They won the European Championships in Klagenfurt, Austria with an undefeated seven-win run, and needed an average of only 36 minutes a match. That followed their FIVB Yokohama, Japan Grand Slam title in which they beat Brazilians Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas in the final.
They are on the verge of qualifying for the Olympics but that’s far from settled because there are four German teams who are in position to claim the two spots allotted. Ludwig and Walkenhorst lead the points race, but they’re also bracing for the competition they’ll get as the 2016 season unfolds.
They can thank Jonas Reckermann and Julius Brink for that. The Germans turned their country into a Beach Volleyball power by capturing gold at the London Olympics in 2012.
“That was really big,” Ludwig said. “I was there, I watched the final. It was like goose bumps everywhere. I was feeling great and when I saw this, I think it changed a lot in our heads that ‘Oh my gosh, the Germans can do this.’ We never won in the Olympics before.
“That was definitely big for Germany. Now in all of our Beach Volleyball camps there are more and more members playing.”
Ludwig and Walkenhorst played in 11 FIVB World Tour events in 2013, taking two silver medals plus a bronze. Walkenhorst was named the FIVB Most Improved Player and Rookie of the Year, so they were poised for a big run in 2014. But Walkenhorst suffered a knee injury and missed the second half of the 2014 season.
“To do nothing is boring and it was a tough time,” Walkenhorst said. “I don’t want to go back to that. I have to go every month to a doctor to check it out. Right now it’s looking good.”
Ludwig finished the 2014 season with Julia Sude, but once she saw the fight Walkenhorst put up to get back on the court, she knew what the future held.
“Tell an athlete to do nothing for six months,” Ludwig said. “She did a real good job hanging in there. There was never a Plan B for the team. We knew when she was coming back, and when we’re healthy we play amazing Beach Volleyball.”
Walkenhorst has soaked in the knowledge from the veteran Ludwig and is poised beyond her years.
“We both really want to get better and we’re working hard every practice,” Walkenhorst said. “In a game under pressure, we know how to help each other.”
And be careful how you describe that veteran savvy that Ludwig is passing on to her teammate. “Don’t say I’m older, say, I’m more experienced, OK?” Ludwig said before breaking into a laugh. “It’s cool, actually. I don’t feel older.”
That youthful exuberance figures to serve them well in 2016. Not to mention their favorite word.
“There are four German teams in the Olympic rankings so there is nothing definite right now,” Walkenhorst said. “We have to fight to the end of the qualification. I’m happy where we are right now, but we have to keep fighting.”
It couldn’t be any other way. But beware of that twinkle in their eyes.