UK Racketlon

Written by James Pope

Golden Generations, Years Apart for Team GB

A combination of the oldest and the youngest brought Team GB their gold moments at the 1st FIR European Championships, as the Over 55s and Under 16s took the spot light.  Three further silvers from GB 2 (Amateur), the Under 21s and the Over 45s ensured that Team GB finished top of the medal table.  With a first Elite semi-final appearance for the GB 1s and a 6th place finish in the Amateur division for GB 3 made this a very successful tournament for the biggest country in world Racketlon.  Meanwhile, Sweden crowned themselves the best of Scandinavia, also winning 2 Golds and adding to that a further couple of bronze medals.  Whilst Denmark claimed their first Elite title, this was their solitary medal from the championships, surely a concern for the Danes and their new FIR president, Kresten Hougaard.




TeamGB players watch GB1 in Semi-Final Action

 

 

 

The Golden Oldies

The GB O55s side took a superb gold working hard as a team to secure a hard fought victory, despite one player earning themselves a new nickname they would sooner see removed.  Across their three matches, Duncan “three sports” Marlow played exactly 33 points of table tennis winning exactly 0 points.  However, despite these hefty defeats, Duncan could not be blown away and that combined with exceptional singles play from Neil Rayner, plus great doubles combinations from Kevin Neville, Julian Clapp and Bruce Shepherd made the O55s an unstoppable force.  In their first group match they saw off the challenge of the home nation, slipping past the Czech Republic by 13 points.  The group decider was against Sweden, and here Neil Rayner shone, two thumping 11-0 victories in the squash and the tennis setting up an 18 personal point win, that contributed to the 6 point victory for the team.  This secured a place in the final against Hungary, led by Peter Sakovics, a real legend of the seniors game.  In the final it was the doubles pairing of Shepherd & Neville who stole the show and winning all four sports as they threashed their Hungarian opposites, which gave the O55s a chance.  Neil survived the Sakovics onslaught, fighting hard to ensure the Hungarian legend couldn’t do any damage to the GB chances.  Similarly, “three sports” Marlow fought back in the final 2 sports to allow Team GB a 3 point victory and a Gold medal.  Congratulations to all the team who all played a part in the title glory.

U16s Secure More Gold!

The Team GB U16s topped their round robin group to take home the Gold medal and confirm Great Britain as the standard bearer in junior racketlon competition.  Led by Leon Griffiths one of the exciting rising stars of the game, ably supported by Arif Wadud and Leon’s younger brother Luke, they secured a great gold medal, backing up the World Teams U16 gold won last year.  With Austria U16s unable to fulfil their fixtures, this made it a three team group, comprising GB, Switzerland and Finland.  Starting out against the Swiss, Leon crushed Tinko Schnegg by 20 points and whilst Arif lost a close match to Yannic Andrey by 4 points, Leon and Arif combined in the doubles to win by 20 points overall.  With Finland defeating Switzerland, it set up a Gold medal shoot out between these two nations for the title.  Leon defeated promising young Finn, Luka Penttinen whilst Arif defeated Juho Kantola and they combined to seal the title with a doubles win.  Across the UK Tour there are a number of handy youngsters in what can only be described as a production line.  Let’s hope they will be fighting hard early next season for a place in the U16s squads for the World Teams next year.


Under 16s on the Top Step, Luke Griffiths, Leon Griffiths & Arif Wadud

Denmark Finally Get their Gold

It has been a wait for Denmark, but in 2015 (despite predictions to the contrary from some authors) they managed to secure a team title, that has always eluded them.  The semi finals pitched Austria against Team GB after Austria had overcome Germany and the Brits saw off Finland, whilst Sweden faced Denmark in a repeat of the 2014 World Teams final, with Sweden defeating Poland and Denmark seeing off home nation the Czech Republic.  In the semi finals, crushing victories for Jesper Ratzer and Kasper Jonsson led the Danes into the final, ensuring there was no repeat of Sweden’s 2014 glory.  Meanwhile, Great Britain appearing in their first Elite grade semi-final took on top seeds Austria.  Sadly, it was not to lead to a first final appearance for GB, with heavy defeats at the top of the order for Duncan Stahl (against Michi Dickert) and Hannah Boden (against Christine Seehofer) that ended the tie as a contest.  However, Dan Busby took an excellent singles victory over Lukas Windischberger, his first over a top 10 player, to take some pride from the defeat.  In the bronze medal match, GB took on Sweden in a closely contest affair.  Duncan tieing his rubber with Rickard Persson, whilst Hannah lost by a solitary point to Lina Lindholm (including a sensational badminton victory over the former Swedish champion) whilst the doubles pairing of Alex Du Noyer and Luke Barnes also lost by a single point.  However, unfortunately for GB in team Racketlon these points all count and sadly Dan Busby could not find a way to get the necessary points again Emil Gunnarsson leaving Sweden with the bronze medal.

In the final, each team provided a world number 1, and both teams number 1s did the job, with Jesper Razter crushing Michi Dickert, before Christine Seehofer repaid the favour for the Austrians destroying Line Norregaard.  The pressure in the match therefore came down to the second men’s singles and the doubles tie.  Marcus Christiansen and Morten Jaksland did the damage with a 5 point victory over Christoph Krenn & Christian Austaller and Kasper Jonsson was able to back up the team with a narrow victory over Lukas Windischberger.  The Danes have a team title, and they will be hoping they can repeat this victory on home soil at the 2016 World Team Championships in Copenhagen in July.  Having had such dominance of the men’s game over the past 3 years, to only now be winning a team title highlights that team Racketlon is all about a strong base of players as well as the individual brilliance of the top player.

 

A Sterling Job well done

Three Team GB teams brought home the (new) family silver, all competing and narrowly missing out on Gold.  GB 2 competing in the Amateur event, dominated their group comprising Denmark 2 and Holland 2.  Against Denmark they dominated the entire fixture, from the moment Keith Lesser opened up with an 11-1 TT victory through to the last point of tennis, won by James “Sgt Wilson” Silvester in his 11-1 tennis win.  James continuing to prove his moniker as he looked dreadfully embarrassed to win 11-1, owing to the fact he was significantly better than his opponent!  Against Holland it was the stunning wins for the doubles partnership of David Ridout and Mark Harris along with James Silvester who ensured that GB 2 were winning their group.  Lauren Whiteman drawing her tie with Holland 2 lady, Kirstein “My” I. Kaptein in an unusual 1-11, 11-2, 2-11, 11-1 result!  With their group won, they were to return on day 2 to face Sweden 2 and Austria 2 for the title.  With Sweden having beaten Austria already, it was on GB 2 to beat Sweden to keep a dream of Gold alive.  A cagey match was just edged by the Swedes. With 1 point needed by Sweden from the doubles tennis tie for victory, Keith was caught out by an underarm backhand serve and Gold was handed to Sweden.  Credit to Sweden 2, a very strong side packed with strong players.  However, the Brits roared back to crush Austria 2 and despite Austria 2 calling on outgoing FIR president, Marcel Wiegl, in their final match, they could not stop the overwhelming force of GB 2 who won all their individual ties and sealed a fabulous victory and a silver medal in the immensely strong Amateur competition.  The last minute cobbled together GB 3 team (Katie Barcley, Jack Bishop, Johnny Bispham, Barrie Keeley, James Pope, Jo Shelley & Jon Spinks) also competed in this division and after securing 2nd in their group behind Austria 2 with victory over Finland 2, they finished a very creditable 6th in the Amateur competition.




Team GB 2 (l-r) Keith Lesser, James Silvester, Dave Ridout, Mark Harris, Lauren Whiteman

For the O45s, it was another great silver medal, for a team that looks to only be getting better.  After destroying their Austrian rivals (particularly Ed Harvey with an incredible 28 points victory in 11 up format), they set up a semi-final against a Hungarian side featuring the two top vets, of Peter “McCains Oven” Sakovics and Levi “Cheeky” Nandori.  Richard Middleton taking on Nandori, engaged in a cagey opening to the match, the first sports shared 16-14 and 14-16, before Richard showed his class on the squash court (11-2) opening up a net 3 point victory.  With Rakesh Gupta minimising the damage in defeat to Sakovics, losing to only 6 points, it paved the way for Barbara Capper and the doubles pairing of Mark Steeden & Simon Whale to secure the O45s a great victory.  In the final, they were to face Sweden.  Tight victories for Richard and Barbara could not be built on in the doubles and second singles and Sweden came home as the O45s champions.

Last, but not least, it was our U21s.  In a 5 team round robin, it was clear from the start that there were two standout teams, Austria and themselves, but there were 3 other teams who wouldn’t let them walk away from it.  Solid work from Leon Griffiths, Alistair Prades and Olivia Chivers ensured that comprehensive wins were achieved over the Czech Republic (42 points) and Switzerland (29 points) before a win over Finland ensured a Gold medal shootout with Austria.  Bringing Hannah Boden in for the final, it was to be a tough match up with Austria able to call on talents such as Bettina Bugl (world number 3) as well as Kris Krawcewicz an exceptionally talented upcoming tennis player.  The U21s fought hard, but the Austrian’s proved too strong and despite a great win for Leon Griffiths over Krawcewicz (well bar the tennis, he did lose that sport), Bettina and Emanuel Schopf proved too strong for Hannah and Alistair and ensured Austria took Gold.

 

Medals Table

Rank

Nation

Gold

Silver

Bronze

Total

1

Great Britain

2

3

0

5

2

Sweden

2

0

2

4

3

Austria

1

1

1

3

4

Denmark

1

0

0

1

5

Finland

0

1

1

2

6

Hungary

0

1

0

1

7

Czech Republic

0

0

1

1

7

Switzerland

0

0

1

1

9

Germany

0

0

0

0

9

Holland

0

0

0

0

9

Poland

0

0

0

0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An enormously successful team championships for Team GB, finishing top of the medals table, a reflection no doubt of our strength across all the divisions.  Only 2 sides, GB 1 (4th in Elite) and GB 3 (6thin Amateur) didn’t pick up a medal at the event.  Sweden and Austria also performed strongly, both nations medalling in the Elite & Amateur categories showing exceptional consistency across the open categories.  However whilst Denmark won that elusive elite teams gold medal, it must be a concern that this was their only medal.

 

First European Championships Czech All The Boxes

Very good facilities, an onsite hotel with additional local hotel options, local shops, tasty, affordable onsite food and smooth organisation from the Czech hosts made for a well run tournament.  The organisers worked really hard and kept good control on the event.  With markers and volunteers you could see miles away and a PA system that could be heard throughout the venue it was excellent organisation.  A team event is probably the hardest form of Racketlon to organise (herding cats is the phrase coming to mind) and the organisers did an excellent job.  The Czech Open is held at this venue, and the performance of the European Championships organisers has resulted in a number of the UK players indicating an intention to come back to the venue next season.  Full credit to all those involved in getting this event set up and run in Prague.

Away from the organisation, and as mentioned in the preview to the event, it is disappointing to see a paucity of entries, with some nations not represented and other nations only entering certain categories.  I hope that the FIR will be looking to address this prior to the World Teams in 2016 in Copenhagen, Kresten Hougaard has promised unlimited entries, but will anyone else bar Britain be able to enter a volume of teams in all categories?  Additionally, I feel it is a crying shame that the format of team Racketlon means that countries with a number of talented ladies either play them in non-Elite teams or have them warming the bench for a couple of days.  It seemed a little unfair that Martina “bone crusher” Meißl carried the drinks for Austria 1 and Bettina Bugl limited to the U21s because only one lady is needed in the teams and Austria obviously called on Christine Seehofer.  Similarly Anna-Klara “AKA” Ahlmer, Kirsten “My” I. Kaptein and Elizabeth Seehofer all playing in the Amateur competition.  I hope that the FIR will look to find a way to improve the involvement of ladies within across Racketlon but particularly for the established ladies in the team competition.

 

The Future’s Bright, The Future’s British

Aside from being the biggest nation there in terms of players, number of teams and finishing top of the medals table, there were further positives for the British contingent.  Whilst well established, long serving players were there in force, there was a number of squad members who are new to the UK Tour.  Lauren Whiteman (GB 2), Mark Harris (GB 2), Julian Clapp (O55s), Johnny Bispham (GB 3), Jon Spinks (GB 3) all new to Racketlon in the past 12 months.  With young guns such as Luke & Leon Griffiths, Olivia Chivers, Hannah Boden, Arif Wadud & Alistair Prades the UK Racketlon scene seems to be incredibly healthy.  Not to mention the players unavailable due to injury or work commitments which included a number of top 30 players on the UK tour.  This strength in depth and development of new players should be fully credited to all those who put in the effort and time to ensure that the UK Tour is as extensive and successful as it can be.  From the ERA volunteers like Duncan, Keith, Ray and George to each tournament organiser, every single player from the A to the D competitions and (particularly for the juniors) the parents and family members of each player.  The players fought for each point and earned the medals through skill and commitment, but the success of Team GB and UK Racketlon is only possible due to everyone involved in Racketlon in the UK.

All in all, a great tournament.  The GB teams have showed development and potential, we are a force to be reckoned with and with energy throughout the game in this country we can continue to get stronger and stronger, watch out world Racketlon, “The British Are Coming”.

 


Watch out Racketlon World, The British Are Coming!