So, for various reasons I have written a lot about the European Championships, much of which can be read on Racketlon.net. However, this medium does leave me unable to waffle on about the event in more general terms, especially focussing on the exploits of all those connected to UK Racketlon. So, here I can! In summary, without doubt, this is the most successful championships for UK Racketlon teams and individual players. Three team and 10 singles or doubles titles makes 2017 our most successful ever season at the major championships, building on our successes at the 2016 World Championships in Denmark and Germany. As a result, TeamGB topped the medal table, 11 Gold medals in total, all won in the first half of the event as our juniors and vets went to town. Every team came home with a gold or silver medal in a thoroughly dominant display that was backed up by numerous individual and doubles successes. A number of players excelled, but Luke Griffiths treble in the U16s with Gold in the singles, doubles and team events a real example of dominance over all his rivals (quite often also Brits in the form of David Bennett, Will Gregson and Ross Wilson). In the vets, Barbara Capper & Richard Middleton returned home with singles titles to their name, Barbara adding two doubles titles to that victory.
In the second week, the stand out performances include GB2 confirming their status as the best national second team, only Belgium 1 could stop them in the newly formed Division 2, while GB1 claimed Bronze to seal a first medal in 13 years in National Racketlon events. Meanwhile, GB3 turned a few heads by making the Division 1 semi-finals before narrowly missing out on Bronze after defeat to Sweden 2 (and scaring GB2 for a while as well!). However, the performance of the second half belonged to Leon Griffiths. He already had U21s singles and team Gold in the bag, plus GB1 bronze, he also claimed an exceptional silver in the Men’s A event, including an excellent victory over home favourite and world number 1 Lukas Windischberger. Their match was thrilling including a 21-0 squash victory for Lukas that was a master-class, before Leon held his composure and dominated the tennis court. Only eventual winner, Rav Rykowski could stop him, in an excellent final that was a great advert for Racketlon. Such was the breadth of British involvement in classes, father & son team, Ray and Dan Ryan achieved a bronze medal in the Men’s D doubles, a debut podium in Racketlon for Ray!
Meanwhile 10 players (Jo Bennett, Jordan Dainty, Paul Doney, Shawn Doney, Stephen Gillott, Will Gregson, Martyn Langston, James Langworthy, Simon Lau & Ross Wilson) earned their first GB caps at this event, while Leon Griffiths became the most capped GB player across all teams, currently with a total of 24. I’m sure everyone who pulled on the (dirty) red of the GB team kit in 2017 enjoyed their experiences, as ever there was great camaraderie amongst the teams and while the schedule limited the opportunities to watch fellow teams (GB1 semi and bronze medal matches aside), it struck me that everyone was really into their opportunity. It would be remiss of this article to not note both the efforts of Jo Bennett stepping in as an injury replacement for Shirley Barre, and Shirley who remained with the GB4 team through all matches, cheering them on. Meanwhile, special mention should be made for Joel Durston and his kit, which spent the entire time he was in Vienna in an airport hanger somewhere that wasn’t Vienna, only arriving on the morning of his departure, leaving poor Joel with a tournament t-shirt, borrowed shorts & rackets and his clothes from the flight over for 3 days in Vienna. At the other end of the scale (for all involved bar myself), much hilarity ensued when Jon Spinks planted a first serve into his doubles partner on the tennis court, James caught flush in the rear end (despite taking position almost in the tramlines….). GB2 arriving for their tennis leg at that moment, very much enjoyed the experience…. In all seriousness, it was once again a real privilege to wear the GB colours and represent the UK Racketlon community in the team event. I would urge all UK Racketlon players to strive towards this as an ambition, it really is a great experience and a Racketlon experience like no other. It is also worth reminding all players that the World Tour events, including European & World Championships are for all players, no matter of their standard. All are always welcome on the tour and usually find a number of Brits at any event.
Away from the Brits and onto the event as a whole, it would be remiss of me to not mention Christoph Krenn and his volunteer force (numbering up to 50!) who undertook the mundane tasks vital for running any event with good humour and efficiency. Perhaps most incredibly for any tournament of this size, there were very few delays in match start times or queues for sports. Even during a thunderstorm eliminating the 4 outside tennis courts, the tennis queue was never excessive. Not queuing for tennis and matches progressing smoothly between the sports really does aid the player experience. With respect to the facilities and having played in both the centre court and “dungeon basement” arena’s, of the second week, I must confess I preferred playing downstairs, the TT and badminton area itself a great place to play when there were a number of matches in progress, it was just missing some background music to increase the atmosphere. However, across both weekends of the event, there was a slight segregation of the centre court users. In the first weekend, no U16s match, singles, doubles or team was played on the centre court, including all three finals in this age group. Similarly, in the second week, precious few non-elite matches were played on the centre court, including again, finals. I am of the opinion that all finals should receive top billing and be played on the show courts when such a facility exists and scheduling permits.
A real highlight of the second weekend was of course the live streaming, which was fantastic to watch. It was perhaps a real shame that this live streaming only covered the very end of the event, especially as that meant it missed much of the team events and all of the junior and vets events. However, the quality of the streams could not be doubted. Similarly, when running smoothly, the live scoring was an effective tool, whether watching from the UK, courtside following different matches or sat in the bar. It was another great effort from those volunteers who were tasked with it through a smart phone app. Sadly however, aside from team photos, as this is written there are no official photos available on Facebook from the event, only images taken by players or their family members are around. Players sharing images of themselves playing Racketlon in these big events is a great way to spread awareness of our sport and for 2 weeks later there to be no photos available for this event is a shame. However, all in all, an ambitious 10 day event from the Austrians at which TeamGB and the UK Racketlon community excelled, what more could we have asked for?