At the first rehearsal tournament in Utrecht, "it was mandatory to drink a beer" if you lost your place on the winning side. This is how Wilco Nijland, format inventor of "King of the Court", remembers the founding myth of his beach volleyball variant. At that time, 25 teams played against and with each other on one court. It was correspondingly funny. But the idea itself was also fun.

Achim Dreis

Sports editor.

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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 against each other in one round – with two duos always facing each other at the net, while everyone else is waiting on the sidelines to be used. The team that makes a mistake has to vacate its place and line up at the back. Whoever wins the rally, scores, gets to 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. 15 points is the limit. It's a breathless cardio workout on clay, with constantly new game situations that challenge even high-performance athletes. Starting this Thursday, the beach format will be performed on the Heiligengeistfeld in Hamburg - 15,110 dollars in prize money will be played out among 000 teams each for women and men. "It's a lot of fun," enthuses Clemens Wickler, 2019 World Championship runner-up in classic beach volleyball, about the "King" variant. Because the opponent changes with every rally, the players are also extremely challenged technically and tactically. The fact that the level sometimes drops a bit may be due to the breathless hustle and bustle – but it is made up for by the persistent action and the tension.

Wilco Nijland, formerly a 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 did not stop it. The format established itself at tournaments in Doha and Hamburg, Rio and Miami. Already this year, the first world champions will be crowned at the beginning of September 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 Federation, which recognized the chances of the variant. It is already being discussed whether an Olympic discipline could emerge from it. "There are many sports in which you have several chances to win medals," says Wickler about the appeal of the doubled possibilities: "That would also be a cool thing for us."

Someone who is already an Olympic champion and yet is not averse to new ideas will act 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 a "link" between players and the audience. "It's no secret that I'm a fan of the format," he says. Brink likes flat hierarchies and is pleased that the players are involved in the development of the variant.

For its first tournament in 2017, Nijland sent invitations by e-mail 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 will be the headliners. Together with Nils Ehlers, Wickler leads the German delegation. And the now 38-year-old Samoilovs is still playing alongside Jānis Šmēdiņš.

In the women's race, 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. The unbrokenly ambitious Ludwig competes for Hamburger SV, but two other Germans enjoy their home game: Julia Sude and Isabel Schneider play for FC St. Pauli and are already looking forward to the celebration afterwards - and whether they are King or Queen is ultimately irrelevant on the Reeperbahn.