Vienna, Austria, July 20, 2017 - Even as FIVB World Champions in 2013, you couldn’t blame Robert Meeuwsen and Alex Brouwer if the Dutch duo felt overlooked.
For so long in the Netherlands, the specter of the legendary Reinder Nummerdor and Richard Schuil loomed large in their country. The popular Nummerdor, one of the most-liked players on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour, was a magnet for interviews when he and Christiaan Varenhorst hit the Rio 2016 Olympic sand.
But it was Meeuwsen and Brouwer who emerged with the bronze medal, falling only to eventual Olympic gold medallists Bruno Oscar Schmidt and Alison Cerutti in a hard-fought three-set match in the semifinals.
And with the retirement of Nummerdor, Meeuwsen and Brouwer now carry the mantle as their country’s most sought-after players.
“Of course, it’s a responsibility but we really like being the ambassadors of beach volleyball in the Netherlands and especially in the Olympic Games,” Meeuwsen said. “It’s growing the sport in our country, first the World Championships in 2015 and then the Olympic Games, they were big moments and you can see it in our country, step by step it’s getting better.
“We owe so much not only to Reinder but Richard of course. They paved the way for us and they made a really good start for making beach volleyball a professional sport in the Netherlands. I don’t really see it as pressure. You have to be thankful that there are so many people that want some of your time.”
The pair will hit the sand in Vienna next week as the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships get underway and they are one of the favourites to not only medal, but to capture the top spot. In this post-Olympic season, the changes that abound have made it even more wide open.
Meeuwsen and Brouwer, like all the top teams, had to restructure their 2017 season after the mad dash to qualifying for Rio 2016. In fact, Bruno and Alison have taken a bit of a back seat to Brazilian countrymen Saymon Barbosa and Alvaro Filho, who are off to a hot start this year as a new team and will be seeded first in the World Championships.
Another new team, Canada’s Sam Schachter and Sam Pedlow, the No. 16 seeds, figure to be in the mix in front of the volleyball-crazy Austrian fans.
Sam Pedlow (right) hits against Brazilian Evandro Goncalves (left) as Canadian partner Sam Schachter follows the action
Schachter, who played in the Rio 2016 Games with now-retired Josh Binstock, is happy with the progress with Pedlow, who played last season with Grant O’Gorman.
“We’ve been battling all year and we’re getting better and we’re beating top teams, so we’re believing in ourselves and the dynamic feels good,” Schachter said after he and Pedlow captured the silver at the FIVB Long Beach President’s Cup last week. “So, we think the world is our oyster and we can go out there and really compete with anyone and feel confident in ourselves.”
“Our focus this year was to get better every week and our results keep climbing, so I feel like we’re peaking at the right time,” Pedlow said. “We’ve structured our season correctly we’re real excited to get to Vienna and see what we’re capable of.”
When they arrive in Austria, they’ll be greeted by many of the same fans who made the tiny town of Klagenfurt the “Capital of Beach Volleyball” over the years. Like every other player, they can’t wait to absorb the atmosphere.
“I don’t think Klagenfurt was made so good because it’s Klagenfurt, I think it’s the Austrian fans that make the event,” Schachter said. “Any event in Austria is going to be amazing, the crowd is so wild. They all know the cheers, they all know the chants, they all know the songs, so just being able to be in that environment where they’re so passionate and so knowledgeable about the sport, it’s just a privilege that we don’t get to experience very often.”
The feeling Meeuwsen and Brouwer want to experience is the same one they enjoyed when they captured the FIVB World Championship in 2013 in Stare Jablonki, Poland.
“We already know the feeling but it feels like it’s so long ago,” Meeuwsen said. “It’s our goal of the season. We set a goal of winning a medal and that’s our realistic goal. It’s still a bit of a dream, even though we did it once. To do it a second time is unique.”