It would have been difficult to imagine this moment a year ago. There were Chilean cousins Marco and Esteban Grimalt, rolling in the sand, celebrating their first win at Gstaad, a 21-19, 22-20 victory over David Schweiner and Ondrej Perusic in hand. It was their first podium in nearly three years, their first semifinal since July of 2019.
Marco and Esteban Grimalt win long-awaited gold medal in Gstaad
After a surgery and months of long, hard work, the Grimalts are back on top of the podium again
Published 07:56, 09 Jul 2022
Heck, it would have been difficult to imagine this moment four months ago. As recently as March, the cousins were falling in the first round of a qualifier of a Challenge tournament. They didn’t even win a set, losing in 37 minutes to Polish youngsters Pawel Lewandowski and Jakub Zdybek. A week later, in Rosarito, they failed to make main draw again, this time being felled by Austrians Phillipp Waller and Robin Seidl in the final round of the qualifier.
It would have been easy to write them off as another flash in the pan, a shooting star: burning bright before extinguishing itself in a hurry. The slump begged the question: What happened to the Grimalt cousins?
What happened to the guys who opened up the qualification to the Tokyo Olympics with back-to-back wins in Sydney and Doha? What happened to Marco, the right side blocker with the howitzer of an arm, or Esteban, the defender with so much physicality and craft?
A lot, as it turns out.
They limped, quite literally, into the Tokyo Olympics. Their average finish in the six tournaments leading up to Tokyo was 26th. Twice, in Cancun, they lost in the qualifier. They broke pool just twice, and one of those, in Sochi, came thanks in part to a forfeit from Germans Clemens Wickler and Julius Thole.
But in the immediate aftermath of Tokyo, where the Grimalts finished ninth, Marco underwent surgery on his knee.
“It’s crazy, man,” Esteban said. “We took a long time to come back.”
Consider them back.
All season, they’ve shown glimpses of the Chilean team who took the world by storm in 2019. In Itapema, they beat Italians Daniele Lupo and Alex Ranghieri for the second consecutive time, then followed it up with a win over Steven van de Velde and Christiaan Varenhorst. In Doha, they toppled then-top-ranked Cherif Samba and Ahmed Tijan. In Kusadasi, down went Evandro and Alvaro. In Rome, they took down the home favorites in Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi en route to a ninth, their best finish in a World Championships.
Slowly but surely, they were gathering momentum, returning to the height of their vaunted powers. In Gstaad, they finally broke through, winning their first medal in three years, a medal – and a Cowbell – that is as hard-earned as any. Their road through the elimination bracket was a gauntlet of some of the best teams in the world, one that featured Alvaro and Evandro, Alex Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen, Marco Krattiger and Florian Breer, Van de Velde and Varenhost, and, finally, David Schweiner and Ondrej Perusic.
There were, in other words, no easy matches. Not even close. And they won all of them.
“Now, after a long trip, two and a half months competing in different tournaments, this one, our last tournament, the most beautiful venue in the world, with the best atmosphere, it’s crazy, it’s a dream come true, all the effort,” Esteban said to a sold-out and raucous Swiss crowd. “We are so happy to be back after a surgery, after hard work, we are competing against the best and winning a trophy that is the best in beach volleyball. We are very happy, very proud, of our team, of our families. This is not just us. This is our whole team in Chile, and in Chile we are going to celebrate.”
Celebrate they should. They’d never so much as sniffed a podium in Gstaad, let alone stood atop it. Their best finish, prior to Saturday afternoon, was a 17th. Now they’re leaving Switzerland with the grandest of souvenirs: the famed Gstaad Cowbell.
“We are going to have to pay the overweight because it’s a big prize,” Esteban said with a laugh. “But it’ll be so nice to be back with our families after so long.”
“I am very happy too. This is special,” Marco said. “This is a special tournament, a special win. I am very happy.”
So, too, are Van de Velde and Varenhorst. Like so many other teams in this field, they fell victim to the Grimalts, losing both in the first round of pool and in the semifinals. But they rebounded, beating a healthy Bruno Schmidt and Saymon Barbosa, 20-22, 21-16, 15-12 to win a bronze medal, their first podium of the 2022 season.
“Sadly I’m used to losing the semis so far, but in the end, we are just so happy to get a medal,” Van de Velde said with a laugh. “You don’t get that many, so I am really enjoying it.”
For Schweiner and Perusic, Gstaad marks another so-close-you-can-taste-it finish, their third silver medal of the season. It’s a result of which to be immensely proud, though it wasn’t difficult to see the agony on Perusic’s sand-splashed face after one final dive fell just short of keeping the ball alive. Still, gold or not: No team in the world has made more finals than Perusic and Schweiner. Not Anders Mol and Christian Sorum. Not George Wanderley and Andre Loyola. Not Cherif Samba and Ahmed Tijan.
That belongs to Schweiner and Perusic alone.
In a way, it makes the win all that more valuable for the Grimalts, who had to beat one of the most consistently top-performing teams on the planet to earn their first Cowbell.
“Here is a special atmosphere around with the crowd, with the landscape, it’s crazy,” Esteban said. “For us, it’s the best tournament that we can win and we did it.”