CKU Paris Ceremony 017

On Monday, Katja Stam and Raisa Schoon will have celebrated a combined 45 birthdays. It’s unlikely that this one will ever be topped.

“I know that tomorrow,” the emcee of the Paris Elite16 told Stam and Schoon after their gold medal victory, “is your birthday.” Then he took the microphone and turned to the thousands of fans populating Roland Garros, beckoning them in French to join in a massive chorus of ‘Happy Birthday.’ And so, just minutes after earning the best birthday present they could have asked, a gold medal in an Elite16, Stam and Schoon were showered with another: thousands of beach volleyball faithful serenading them, in one of the most iconic venues in all of sport.

“It’s already special that our birthdays are on the same day,” said Stam, who will turn 24 years old on Monday. “And the fact that so many people are celebrating us, it’s insane.”

It feels as if it’s been quite a while since Stam and Schoon have had reason to celebrate on the Beach Pro Tour. But perhaps that’s also due to the fact that, at the beginning of the year, Stam and Schoon were being celebrated virtually every weekend. In a span of four weeks, Stam and Schoon made three finals, claiming silver in Tlaxcala, gold in Rosarito, then silver once more in Itapema. They flew up the World Rankings, all the way to No. 1. They entered three out of four tournaments as the top seed, including the World Championships in Rome. But the podiums had come to a halt.

In the six tournaments succeeding Itapema, Stam and Schoon finished fifth four times, ninth once, and settled for a 25th in Gstaad.

“The little details that missed in those tournaments for getting into the semis, and for this tournament, we’re together again and the performance behavior we have on court is a lot better,” Stam said after a semifinal win over Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint. “We are pretty different people but we learned each other a lot better during the summer and that’s one of the reasons we’re here right now.”

Their performance in Paris was almost as dominant as that of the men who won the gold medal. Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sorum lost just a single set en route to their third win this season. Stam and Schoon dropped two, both in their opening match against Barbara and Carol. After that? Five straight sweeps, including a 21-16, 22-20 finals victory over Latvians Tina Graudina and Anastasija Samoilova, the very team they lost to in the semifinals of the European Championships a month ago.

“Every point is necessary, and we told each other, ‘Next point, we need to make the next point,’” Schoon said. “Until the last point fell on the other side, then we could rest.”

After a busy summer, they'll also have some time to rest now. Their next event isn’t until the Cape Town Elite16, exactly a month from Sunday. Plenty of time to celebrate what is, by any measure, a birthday celebration of epic proportions.

“Proud,” Schoon said. “So proud. We fight so hard and we won. It’s amazing.”