Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann: Olympic champions 2012. Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst: Olympic champions 2016.
Anyone who thinks of beach volleyball in Germany usually thinks first of this and other heroes stories, connects positive things with the sport, which could experience another celebration this month with a home European Championship at Munich’s Königsplatz.
For those who deal more closely with the situation, the picture is different. Very different. And one of those who suffer from it is Julius Brink.
“It always hurts me to be asked what’s wrong with beach volleyball in Germany,” says the gold hero from London in an interview SPORT1.
The now 40-year-old is saddened by how many omissions, inner trench warfare of false art and serious upheavals have shaped the scene in the past. The constant unrest has recently experienced a new high – with a key figure behind Brink’s and Reckermann’s gold coup in an involuntary leading role.
Successful coach Wagner threatens to resign
In mid-July, German beach volleyball experienced its latest major tremor: Niclas Hildebrand, the sports director responsible for the beach division at the DVV volleyball association, was released despite a permanent contract.
“There was no longer a basis for joint cooperation,” explained the new DVV sports director Julia Frauendorf in the installed Southgerman newspaper short as vague, a dispute over competences is said to have preceded it.
What made the tremors even bigger: Jürgen Wagner, the gold coach of Brink/Reckermann and Ludwig/Walkenhorst, also threatened to throw down because Hildebrand was thrown out. Wagner works as the “Head of Beach Volleyball” at the base in Hamburg and is an even greater identification figure for the German beach cracks.
Hildebrand’s end also shakes Brink’s head. “I was surprised,” he says SPORT1: “I don’t understand why a sports director is released from his duties because of something like this in such a difficult time.”
Wildcard causes Zoff
The “something” that Brink means: The conflict between Hildebrand and Frauendorf is said to have sparked the question of which women’s duo should receive a wildcard for the important international tournament in Hamburg (10th to 14th August).
Hildebrand wanted to give it to Kira Walkenhorst and her partner, star player Louisa Lippmann, who switched from classic volleyball to sand and with whom she will play the European Championships in Munich in mid-August. In the future, Lippmann will then start with Laura Ludwig.
Frauendorf supported the youth duo Leonie Klinke and Lena Ottens for the tournament in Hamburg, and the sports director was overruled together with player representative Victoria Bieneck. The Hamburg tournament director Frank Mackerodt was also appalled by the decision – and expressed his regret in a public Facebook post that was as visible as it was meaningful to Kira Walkenhorst.
“Dear Kira Walkenhorst, we in Hamburg, the beach volleyball spectators and the media would have been very happy if you had received the wild card with your partner,” wrote Mackerodt: “It would certainly have been a win-win situation for all opportunities – especially for beach volleyball.”
Brink doesn’t understand the decision against Walkenhorst and Lippmann either: “Since you’re pursuing the idea of supporting the two as best as possible, also with an Olympic perspective, I can hardly understand it and I haven’t heard anything in the reasoning that makes much sense is.”
Brink looks super meltdown for the DVV
The wildcard dispute appears to be the catalyst for a deeper problem. The young management consultant Frauendorf, who used to work for McKinsey, and her board colleague Bernd Janssen, who comes from the banking industry, were appointed by DVV President René Hecht at the end of 2021 in order to provide the association, which is indisputably in need of reform, with more know-how.
Ideally, Frauendorf, Janssen and the sports scientist and ex-youth national coach Hildebrand with their different backgrounds could now combine the best of several worlds. Instead, there seems to have been a power struggle between Frauendorf and Hildebrand in particular, with no way out in sight.
In the meantime, Hecht is trying to mediate and smooth things over, with the result still uncertain.
Brink sees Hecht under strong pressure to act, he would see a double departure from Hildebrand and his ex-coach Wagner as a super meltdown “with major collateral damage”.
“The association is dead as a mouse if someone who brings in a lot of quality and structure comes off the peg,” says Brink. Hildebrand and Wagner managed to “establish a certain structure and philosophy there and God knows it wasn’t easy under the circumstances. It still isn’t when you’re being thrown a stick at board level like that.”
Beach volleyball base in Hamburg under criticism
Laura Ludwig, who has celebrated many successes with Wagner, has decided to stay. “I hope that he (Jürgen Wagner, editor’s note) will not generally withdraw from beach volleyball. That would just be sad because he gave a lot to German beach volleyball and can still give a lot,” she said ZDF.
Brink also warns: “I could also imagine that many coaches who had high hopes and were recruited by this Jürgen-Niklas constellation, look at it very critically.”
However, Hildebrand’s work in the scene is not entirely undisputed. A hot topic in recent years has been the centralization of resources at the base in Hamburg, which he has been pushing for.
Hildebrand sees it as the best chance of new medal coups and thus more funding from the DOSB. Managers at other locations see the price as too high.
“It was a disaster for the youngsters,” criticized in the Southgerman newspaper youngest Jörg Ahmann, winner of the historic first beach medal at the Olympics (bronze) with Axel Hager in Sydney in 2000 and now base coach in Stuttgart. There are “too few coaches and clubs that train youngsters adequately”.
Walkenhorst with harsh allegations against Hildebrand
Another prominent critic of Hildebrand: Alexander Walkenhorst, Kira’s older brother, German Champion 2021 and this year as a start-up entrepreneur interim savior of the German beach volleyball tournament series threatened with extinction.
Alex Walkenhorst thinks nothing at all of the sports director who has been booted out. “The hat lied in all directions,” complained the 34-year-old since Saturday in the SZ: “There are two or three confidants who pant after him, everyone else is happy. This guy wasn’t good enough to be a sporting director.”
For years, Walkenhorst has presented himself as a straight talker who wants to shake up the association that he sees as encrusted, modernize it and make it more attractive for a young target group. From the point of view of his followers and rightly so, from the point of view of his critics, he does more harm than good with his polemically polarizing art.
In recent years, Walkenhorst has caused a stir several times, think of the irritation surrounding a supposed penis picture that he drew on the screen during a live stream of a women’s game. In June, player representative Jonas Reinhardt approached Walkenhorst because the women in the series hardly got any center court and thus stream presence.
Despite all the irritation, Brink is happy that Walkenhorst exists: “What he develops in his role as an entrepreneur represents a great enrichment for beach volleyball,” he says SPORT1.
He does not have to “approve every statement he makes”, but Walkenhorst’s merits in the A ahead of the German series, which was run down by “mismanagement”, clearly outweigh it.
He is “very grateful” to Walkenhorst for that, says Brink – and is surprised that this feeling is particularly prevalent among the players.
Brink rejects engagement at DVV
Brink himself would also like to help German beach volleyball more, but in the DVV, as President Hecht designed it, he sees no place for himself.
“Contrary to the opinion of our President, I’m happy to get involved,” says Brink: “I’m on the Athletes’ Committee of the World Federation, I’m very closely involved there and I have a say. In Germany, too, I was active in conscientious commissions and management positions for many years. But I don’t see any position for me at the moment in terms of the structure, even with the way they have just been reorganized.
Brink regrets the situation, because he actually sees great potential: “We have a product that you don’t have to explain to people first. Not only at the Olympics, but also at the World Cup, we have repeatedly shown that we are able to inspire masses, see Hamburg 2019. It’s just a shame that we don’t use this sporting success.”