Being one of the most recognized active beach volleyball players in the world with an infectious smile and a pleasing personality, Laura Ludwig has been enjoying life despite the lack of action on the international scene.
Today, the Olympic and world champion from Germany will be at home today in Hamburg celebrating her 35th birthday with her husband Morph Bowes and young son Teo.
“Normally I’m abroad at a training camp,” said Ludwig, who played in her first international event in 2003 when she and Jana Kohler won eight-straight matches highlighted by a pair of victories over Brazilians Carolina Salgado and Barbara Seixas to capture the gold medal at the FIVB Under-18 World Championships in Pattaya, Thailand.
“But this year, as for everyone has been different,” Ludwig added. “With the pandemic, for sure, it will be quiet!! After practising earlier in the day, I’ll celebrate it at home, with my son and man. Unfortunately, my family and friends won’t be able to visit us.”
Since last competing on the FIVB circuit in September 2019 when she and Maggie Kozuch captured the gold medal at the World Tour Finals in Rome, the German pair has competed in four domestic events (2nd-, 3rd-, 9th- and 2nd-place finishes) before placing ninth at the European Championships in Jurmala.
When asked if the lack of competition has helped or hurt her team's development, Ludwig said “it’s a difficult question to answer. On one hand, I think it helped us because we had more time to practice without pressure and develop the athletic/technical side of our game. We have had time to develop our shared idea of how we want to play.”
As for the downside of the lack of competition during the pandemic, Ludwig said “I love being on the court and competing against the best in the world, this for sure is an important part of any team’s development, so without this regular pressure we have missed something that we love to have. I can’t wait to get back on tour and battling.”
As for the delay in the Tokyo Olympics where she is expected to defend the title that she won in 2016 with Kira Walkenhorst on iconic Copacabana in Rio, Ludwig said she is “becoming more convinced that it will be held, I’m sure Japan will be able to deliver an Olympic Games, the question will be, in which format.”
Ludwig also added about Tokyo, “we’re still not in the comfortable place of knowing we have qualified, there’s a lot of qualification time left, and to earn our place is obviously our first objective and the one we can control.”
At the moment, Ludwig and Kozuch trail Karla Borger and Julia Sude by 20 points (4,440 points to 4,420) for the top German spot in qualification, with a 940-point lead over Victoria Bieneck and Isabel Schneider for their country's second Tokyo berth.
With the 2021 FIVB schedule for qualifying for Tokyo still be to be announced, Ludwig said she and Kozuch “have been training since mid-October. Our OSP-Hamburg training centre has done fantastic work to make sure we could train as normally as possible in these times. We normally have a six-day week schedule, at the moment we’re preparing to head to Rio for a training camp. The sun will be a welcome addition to training.”
As for playing after the 2021 season, with American rival Kerri Walsh Jennings still competing at 42, Ludwig said “I’m not sure about that. My family is a priority, but I love this sport and it’s an important part of my life, so I’ll have to see how things work out. Kerri is for sure a unique person and athlete with four Olympic medals and three kids, I’m quite sure she is the only person able to achieve this. She once told me that after two kids it gets easier.”
As a world, Olympic and European champion with numerous memorable moments, Ludwig said “after competing for so long, I’ve been lucky to play against so many tough opponents, the challenge was always to learn from the wins, losses or even the size of the occasion. I suppose I’ve learned that the toughest part has always been controlling and managing myself, something thankfully, I am still learning about.”
Outside of the Olympic and World Championship victories, Ludwig said winning the European Championships in Hamburg (2008) and Berlin (2010) with Sara (Sara Goller Niedrig) “were important because they were the first titles I won at home in Germany. Winning a 2014 Glam Slam gold at Shanghai with Kira was special because it was my first major title. The gold medal at the 2019 FIVB World Tour Finals in Rome was a special achievement for me personally. To win gold as a mother with a new team was memorable.”
The most decorated women's player among European participants on the FIVB World Tour, Ludwig said “I wasn’t thinking about winning or achievements when I started competing. I was too busy enjoying playing, traveling the world and meeting people. In 2005, it was the first time I ever flew, so I was more excited about that.”
In 148 World Tour starts with four different partners, Ludwig has won 12 gold medals, competed in 23 finals with 32 podium placements, 38 final four finishes and 66 quarterfinal appearances. She is less than US$20,000 short of becoming the first European men’s or women’s beach volleyball player to earn $1 million from FIVB events.
While the pandemic has seen many of the beach volleyball players picking up new hobbies and interests, Ludwig said “nothing is new for me, my hobby is my family. And today I celebrate No. 35 with Morph and Teo. How special is that!
Read more: Ludwig ever-popular, ever-driven for glory