A day before she opens defence of her German beach volleyball crown with Karla Borger, Julia Sude will be celebrating her 33rd birthday here Wednesday as the European country’s elite players gather for their annual national championships.
FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour
Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
With competition continuing through Sunday on the courts situated on the Bay of Lübeck in the Baltic Sea, the German championships will have Sude and Borger seeking to repeat last year's gold medal effort as the pair posted a three-set win over Maggie Kozuch and Laura Ludwig in the 2019 finals.
"It will not be a wild night of partying," said Sude, who also captured the 2017 German Championships with Chantal Laboureur and the country’s 2010 crown with Jana Köhler. "It will be like the last 16 years or more for me in Timmendorfer Strand where the German championships take place!”
Sude said that “this year, unfortunately, there is no party due to the pandemic. We’ll get tested today on my birthday for the championships and then we can’t have any contact with people. Maybe there is a little online-cake-celebration."
With much of the 2019-2020 FIVB World Tour cancelled due to the global pandemic, Sude said “it was and is an unsteady situation. Nobody knew in March what would happen or how long we would not be allowed to play. So, I decided next to practice and do something for my dental studies. The situation for me was relaxing because we didn’t travel, and we could work on a lot of specific things that usually weren’t possible during the season. But I was relieved when it was finally possible to compete again.”
Before resuming play on the German domestic tour along with placing fourth two weeks ago at the FIVB World Tour event in Baden, Austria, Sude had been filling her time with her dental studies as she said “it's a different level of concentration and a different strain on the body."
Borger also noted that she and Sude also used the time by playing musical instruments. “I play the saxophone and used the time to take private lessons,” said Borger. “Julia plays the piano and we have even performed together on television. We had a lesson together during the break.”
Competing in FIVB events since 2004 with her first World Tour appearance in 2007 with Claudia Lehmann, Sude is coached by her father. Known as 'Mr. Volleyball' in Germany, Burkhard Sude won 203 volleyball caps for Germany and was named five times in the country’s Player of the Year awards. He also coached German teams at the Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
“I was growing up next to the courts when my dad played indoor and later as a beach volleyball coach of Jorg Ahmann and Axel Hager,” said Sude. “So, it is difficult to define what age I was when I started playing the sport. I know my first competitions was when I was 16 and playing on the German tour.”
After failing to qualify for the Olympic Games in London in 2012 (with Kohler) and in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 (with Laboureur), Sude and Borger are currently Germany’s top-ranked team on the provisional Tokyo Summer Games list as the pair has 5,950 points for their best 12 finishes. Kozuch and Ludwig are second (5,440 points) with Victoria Bieneck and Isabel Schneider third (4,660).
When asked about playing matches on her birthday, Sude said “honestly I just have memories of the matches in the German championship because they are very special and emotional especially when a whole stadium is singing happy birthday to you. I always had tears in my eyes.”
As for idols in the sport, Sude said she “loves to watch the matches of the best women’s and men’s players and analyse their play, skills, flexibility and mental behaviour. Everyone is individual and it’s not possible to copy a style or a behaviour. You learn by watching and taking a certain skill and developing it as your own.”
When asked about memorable moments, Sude said winning the 2010 German title with Kohler “will always stand out in my mind. It’s always emotional at the end of the season and in front of family and friends. And I always cherish every medal I have won because it’s the reward for all the sacrifices and hard work you put in this sport you love.”
Only Ludwig (183) has played in more recorded international beach volleyball events for Germany than Sude (166), who has compiled 30 podium placements at FIVB and CEV events in her career. In 127 World Tour starts, Sude has captured three gold medals with nine appearance in finals, 13 podium placements, 19 final four finishes and 41 elite eights to her credit.
As for favourite sites, Sude cited “all the cities in Germany because it’s so rare that we play in front of our home crowd. Tokyo was special last year because it was named as the test event for the Olympic Games and we reached the semifinals there. Gstaad is special to me as it feels like a home tournament because I have family there and they always host me like a daughter.”
Speaking of the Tokyo Olympics and the postponement of competition to 2021, Sude said “it was a bummer for everyone. I think we never planned a year in detail that much, but we are taking it as it comes. The good part is that you always can improve and add something or try something new. So, we take it as a chance!”
As for the future and vying for the Paris 2024 Olympics and beyond, Sude said, “you never know what life prepares for you. I am still motivated and as long as my body doesn't have any issues and it’s fun to play and you can live from it, I am ready for the next cycle!”