Lausanne, Switzerland, September 5, 2020 - Two days before Marco Krattiger would win his first medal on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour, and the first gold for Switzerland's men in 13 years, he was looking at flights.
He and Nico Beeler wanted out of Edmonton, Canada.
Sure, they had advanced from the pool at the 2019 Edmonton 3-star, having beaten Canadians Aaron Nusbaum and Michael Plantinga in the first round. But they dropped the second to a little-known Lithuanian team, Lukas Kazdailis and Anas Dumsevicius, who came out of the previous day’s qualifier.
That night, Krattiger began scrolling through flight options, knowing their tournament would soon be over.
“The pool final was a really bad game. Nico and me – we got into a big fight,” Krattiger said. “It was weird, because we were really fighting and I was checking the flights home. It wasn’t really our best moment.”
And maybe, in that weird way that these things sometimes go in sports, that is precisely what they needed. They’d been partners for as long as they’d been playing in sanctioned tournaments, Krattiger and Beeler. And they’d had their fair share of success, too. They won a silver medal at the 2014 European Championships, took a ninth at the 2017 Fort Lauderdale Major, and a fourth four months later at The Hague 4-star.
“Most of the times we got into quarterfinals, we were the underdogs,” said Krattiger, who is 26 and in his fifth full-time season on the FIVB World Tour. “In The Hague, in the semifinals, we played Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Nikita Liamin, and there was Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo, and Adrian Gavira and Pablo Herrera, so we were the young guys of the group, so we didn’t have pressure and it was our first semifinal, but when you’re there, you really, really want that medal.”
But the medal never came. This wasn’t due to a lack of excellent play, or a dearth of opportunities – they simply never got over the proverbial hill.
Until, of course, everything seemed to be going as wrong as things possibly could.
Their loss to the Lithuanians in pool play at the Edmonton 3-star came on the heels of a 17th, 41st, and a 25th – their worst stretch of three tournaments as a partnership. They had played six matches in three countries on two continents and won only one.
“Maybe that was the key: ‘I’m just going to play my best and I don’t care about what the other guy is doing or what the other guy is thinking,’” Krattiger recalled of how he and Beeler played for the remainder of the Edmonton tournament. “We just started getting more together and more together.”
They would lose only one set the rest of the way, eliminating an impressive gauntlet of a bracket en route to the gold medal match – Philipp Bergmann and Yannick Harms, Quincy Aye and Arnaud Gauthier-Rat, Kusti Nolvak and Mart Tissar, Billy Allen and Stafford Slick.
The gold medal match, of course, it being the first final on that stage for the two, provided its own bit of adversity.
“It was crazy because we had the chance to win in the second set, and somehow we lost the second because we were a bit nervous,” said Krattiger, who actually took a timeout up 20-18 in the second set to try and quell those nerves. “We had never played a final on this level before.”
Nor had they played a final against a team from the host country. Ben Saxton and Grant O’Gorman enjoyed the comforts of a home crowd, a home stadium, on a time zone to which they were well-accustomed.
It didn’t matter.
It was barely a day prior that Krattiger and Beeler had been searching for flights. It made them the most difficult type of opponent: the one with nothing left to lose.
They rolled on in the third, winning 21-15, 23-25, 15-8, capturing their first world tour medal, and the first men's gold for Switzerland since Krattiger was 11, when Patrick Heuscher and Stefan Kobel won gold in Italy in 2006.
“I was just really happy to get that medal,” Krattiger said. “I had a medal from a junior tournament and I was always looking at this medal and I said ‘One day I want to have one.’ Then we finally got it and it was really a big moment.”
Nico Beeler and Marco Krattiger (right) with their gold medals in Edmonton.
It was more than a big moment – it was a monumental year, both for Krattiger and for Swiss volleyball as a whole. Three months later, countrymen Mirco Gerson and Adrian Heidrich would win another gold, in Qinzhou, China.
For a brief moment, Switzerland volleyball was on the rise – until nothing at all was on the rise. Covid hit, halting all momentum in its tracks, including, most of all, Krattiger’s. Despite holding firm to the No. 2 spot in Switzerland’s Olympic rankings, Beeler decided to return to indoor, leaving Krattiger to start anew with young Florian Breer, a precocious 21-year-old defender with whom Krattiger took ninth in Qinzhou.
They had, as all teams did, the 2020 season laid out before them. They spent the pre-season training in Tenerife, Spain, with the rest of the top teams in Europe, prepping for the Iran three-star and another in Australia. When Iran was cancelled, they spent a week training in Dubai with Latvians Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins, and then Australia was cancelled.
“Every week changed completely,” Krattiger said.
They made do with what they could. Krattiger fashioned a home gym out of a kettlebell and some TRX bands. They competed in a Swiss Tour event, and took a fifth in the Baden 1-star. Even if it didn’t offer points, it was something.
Days later, they were on their way to Montpellier, France, when they had to turn around. Someone in their training group tested positive for Covid.
No tournament for them. Just 10 days of quarantine.
After winning his first medal, losing a partner, finding a new one and then losing the entire season, Krattiger remains as upbeat as ever. That’s who he is – perpetually smiling, humble, soft-spoken demeanor never wavering.
He and Breer have the King of the Court this week, and European Champs the next. That’s it. That’s the whole season. But it’s a season nonetheless.
“Yesterday was my last session in the gym,” he said. “It’s crazy.”
But he’s got his medal. And he’s got his partner.
Beyond that, “we showed ourselves that we are capable of winning a tournament on the international high level,” he said. “This was a confidence booster not only short but long term. It means that one day you were one of the best in the world in your sport and this is a huge thing for me.”