To those who remember volleyball’s Olympic debut at Tokyo 1964, the name Perusic may well ring a bell. And now another Perusic is set to make his mark at the Olympic beach volleyball tournament at Tokyo 2020.
57 years after Boris Perusic won Olympic silver with the volleyball team of Czechoslovakia, his grandson Ondrej Perusic, along with partner David Schweiner, will try to follow in his grandfather’s steps as they represent Czechia on the Olympic sand court in Japan.
“That’s why the Tokyo Olympics is really special for me,” 26-year-old defender Ondrej Perusic told Volleyball World on the eve of their third consecutive appearance in the final four of the J&T Banka Ostrava Beach Open 4-star event. “When we found out that the next Olympics was going to be in Tokyo, my father told me, ‘you’d better start practicing!’ At that time, we took it as a joke, but now I am really happy, because this is an amazing story for the whole family. They supported me so much that I can say we qualified for Tokyo as a family.
“When my grandfather gave me his Olympic medal for my 18th birthday, to be honest, at the time I wasn’t sure if it meant ‘go for it’ or something like ‘OK, here’s my medal and you try to focus on your studies’. He was cheering for us the whole qualification period and was really happy that he and I will share the Tokyo Olympics experience. He is actually in Ostrava now and he was here in 2019 as well, so he got to enjoy a couple of tournaments live.”
Just five years ago, when they teamed up on the beach, for David and Ondrej the Olympics was just a distant dream, but when they made their first final four of a 4-star tournament, at Ostrava 2018, they realised it was an achievable goal. Now they are qualified.
“The Olympics has always been a dream for me, like for many little children,” 27-year-old blocker David Schweiner said. “During the years, it turned into a goal. And now it is reality. We are really happy that that dream came true.
“It was a step-by-step process. At the beginning we were not even able to win on the national tour. In the first year playing internationally we were not able to win a single game; we were just collecting experience. We were watching the best teams on YouTube and practicing a lot. The first time we got to play against some of the top teams they crushed us and we realised we needed to work harder and it would take time. Now I am really glad that we can play at this level and be one of the top 20 teams in the world.”
In 2018, Perusic and Schweiner claimed their first World Tour medals, at 1- and 3-star events, and made their 4-star breakthrough by finishing fourth on the home sand. In 2019, again in Ostrava, they reached the final and claimed silver.
“This is a kind of a fairy tale for us,” Ondrej said. “Five years ago, we were a promising team, but not even one of the best Czech teams. We were way low in the rankings and were not even thinking about the Olympics. First, we just wanted to prove ourselves that we were good enough to play on the World Tour at a certain level. Even in 2018 we were still so far from the Olympics. The only thing that gave us hope was we were getting better and better each year. We have some of the best coaches in beach volleyball we think and they were the decisive factor.”
At the first 4-star tournament in 2021, as the World Tour resumed in Doha after the pandemic-forced break, the Czech pair won their first ever gold on the Tour. They followed it up with a bronze at the next event, in Cancun, and now they have already reached their third back-to-back Ostrava semifinal.
“Before this season, we were in a good position, but we knew that we had to perform really well to qualify for Tokyo. I thought that we would probably be one of the teams that would have to fight through the very end,” Perusic continued. “That’s why Doha was a great surprise for us. It was amazing because it raised our chances a lot.”
Even now that they are having a great season on the World Tour and have already qualified for Tokyo, they are very cautious in their expectations from the Olympics.
“We don’t know what to expect. First, we have never played at the Olympics, and second, this year it will probably be a very different Olympics because of the pandemic,” Perusic said. “From the game perspective, the difference to other tournaments will be that everybody tries to be fully prepared for this event. So do we. As far as results, we have not set up any goals yet, but I think the first goal is to keep up the good performance from this season. If we reach the ninth place, we will prove that we deserved to qualify and that we are able to compete with the best teams. A fifth place would be something really amazing.”
David and Ondrej certainly have what it takes to do well at the Olympics. But what are their greatest strengths?
“We have a really good fighting spirit and a game system, which we can adjust during the games, according to the opponents and according to the weather conditions,” Schweiner said. “The system allows us to play with the best teams, although I don’t think we belong among them.”
“Beach volleyball is a very specific sport. It’s just two of us. It’s not a collective sport in the common way and it’s not an individual sport,” Perusic added. “So it’s really a lot about the relationship between the two players. If you are not able to handle this, it starts to become visible on the court and affects your performance in the wrong way.”
FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour - Ostrava
Olympic Games Tokyo 2020