Ondrej Perusic

Ondrej Perusic & David Schweiner’s 2023 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship title may have come as a surprise to many. Even to the Czech players themselves, it was a “utopian idea”, but judging by the growth and the consistency their team has shown over the years, that triumph was a logical point on their journey in the magical world of beach volleyball.

In the early days of his beach volleyball career, Perusic competed at a number of age-category world and European championships. When he was just 15 years old, he reached a fifth place at the 2012 FIVB U21 World Championship with Ondrej Benes. Three years later, Ondrej Perusic & Tomas Vana finished fourth at the CEV U22 European Championship.

Perusic joined forces with Schweiner in 2016. They started testing the sand in some senior men’s international tournaments and have been together with growing success ever since. Their first medal on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour was a Montpellier 1-star silver in 2017. The following year they got a 3-star silver in Mersin. Another year later, they made it to their first 4-star podium with yet another silver at home in Ostrava.

The coronavirus pandemic put the world on pause for a while, but obviously Perusic & Schweiner did not waste their time. With beach volleyball’s return to the world stage in March 2021, the Czech pair immediately emerged with their first gold at the Doha 4-star in Qatar. They added a couple of more high-level medals to their World Tour collection and rightfully qualified for their first Olympic Games. Unfortunately, it was the coronavirus that played a bad joke on them in Tokyo. A positive test forced them to forfeit their first match at the Games and despite winning their second and pushing the reigning world champions at the time to a tie-breaker in the third, the Czechs stopped short of advancing beyond pool. Towards the end of that season, Perusic & Schweiner earned silver at the last-ever World Tour Finals in Cagliari, while the decision to end their professional beach volleyball journey was postponed for the time being, at least for another Olympic cycle.

2022 was marked with more silver lining as the Czech standouts lost all four big finals they reached during the year, three on the inaugural Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour (Itapema Challenge, Ostrava Elite16, Gstaad Elite16) and one at the European Championship in Munich, but in 2023 the lining turned to gold. Perusic & Schweiner broke the silver “curse” with a Uberlandia Elite16 trophy in April and repeated that success at the Paris Elite16, just before flying to Mexico for the World Championship. Despite losing two of their three matches in pool play at Tlaxcala 2023, they marched on victoriously to the historic title, the first for them and for their country.

Perusic/Schweiner (CZE) vs. Åhman/Hellvig (SWE) - Final 1st Place #7522210

Perusic & Schweiner celebrate as 2023 world champions

Just ahead of their last appearance of the season, at the Beach Pro Tour Finals in Doha, the 29-year-old defender took the time for an exclusive Volleyball World interview.

First of all, congratulations on winning the World Championship title! Now, over a month from your success, how do you look back at your time in Tlaxcala and your triumph in the end?

“It still feels incredible, unreal... The whole trip, starting from Paris and ending with a victory in Tlaxcala, was way more successful than expected. To be honest, we still did not have enough time to relax, look back and reflect on these events, but the inner feeling is priceless. Now I hope that we, not only David and I, but also the whole team, the Czech federation and Czech beach volleyball, will be able to transform this successful tournament into long-term success for our sport in the Czech Republic.”

What were the first 24 hours after the World Championship final like?

“Honestly, the first 24 hours were a mixture of so many things, but I can name only the two main ones: intense emotions and huge fatigue. We were so tired that even the celebrations were not as wild as some would expect. I guess that this was the kind of tournament that you would need some time to process everything, especially if the gold is so unexpected like in our case.”

Tell us in detail about the heroes' welcome you and David received when you went back to Czechia - by the fans, by your loved ones, by the state officials... How much has the world title affected your celebrity status in your country?

“Frankly, the welcome at the airport was one of the greatest experiences in my sports career. A couple of hundred people gathered at the airport to give us an amazing welcome. You see faces of people who have been around since the very beginning of your journey, a lot of young kids as the future of our sport, to sum it up it was very, very nice. I don’t like the word ‘celebrity’, because it does not have a positive connotation, in my opinion, but for sure this success has raised some awareness about us outside the ‘sports bubble’. There are not so many world champions in the Czech Republic, so that for sure helped.”

Before the World Championship, did you even dream of reaching the top of the podium in Mexico?

“Not at all! We knew we had had a good season so far and that if we played at our best, we could match the top teams of the world and, under certain circumstances, even Anders and Christian - in my opinion, truly the best team in the world. But we were more focused on scoring a solid result towards the Olympics and wanted to reach at least the quarterfinals. The idea of actually winning a medal was kind of utopian at that time, even despite the successful first part of the season.”

You are probably the most selective elite team in terms of choosing which tournaments to play at, but that also caused you a drop in the World Ranking. What was the reason for that and how is your secured spot at Paris 2024 going to affect your choices in the months to come?

“This season has been really up and down for us. We struggled with some health issues, immunity problems, etc. Then I got injured right before the Gstaad Elite16 and due to this injury we had to skip the Elite16 in Montreal and the European Championships in Vienna. However, when we had the opportunity to prepare for a tournament, the results were not bad, so we at least had a good position in the Olympic race and we did not have to rush things too much. The decision to let my abdominals heal well and prepare at our best for Tlaxcala and Paris turned out to be the right one. As you pointed out, we have not played so many tournaments this year yet, but the season was really long, anyway. Therefore, we would like to have some rest after the Doha Finals and spend some time with our wives and families. Then we will decide according to the calendar, which is not yet confirmed at this point and it is kind of unclear what the season will look like in the end. The fact that we are qualified gives us the calm and allows us to centre next year’s preparation mostly on the Olympics. Nevertheless, there are still many tournaments to play and as I said before, we still don’t have so many results.”

Your immediate plans include participation in the upcoming Beach Pro Tour Finals in Doha. How excited are you about that and what are your expectations?

“We are very excited to participate in Doha. The Finals are a great occasion to play some high-quality matches against the top teams of the world, and it feels great to qualify not only because of the tournament itself, but also because it shows that we were able to maintain some very important consistency through most of the season. The level of the Beach Pro Tour is very high, so we are glad that we made it to the Finals. Our expectations are, maybe surprisingly, not so high. We would like to perform well and advance beyond the pool. At this level, details really count, so it is going to be also a matter of how each team managed to prepare in the end of a very long and very difficult season. Our pool to me is very even, very balanced - literally everyone can finish last or win it.”

Perusic/Schweiner vs. Åhman/Hellvig - Gold Match Highlights | Tlaxcala 2023 #mexbeachvolley

At the end of the previous Olympic cycle, you and David were debating whether or not to go through another one. I am sure you don't regret your decision to continue, but what comes after Paris?

“I guess the same discussion as after Tokyo. I can only speak for myself at this point, but as of right now, my decision would be to end my professional career after the 2024 season. But we will for sure have to sit down next year not only with David, but also with our coaches Andrea Tomatis and Valerio Vaccaro, discuss everything and decide about our future plans.”

Finally, I'm sure many of the fans are wondering - what's the deal with that nipple ritual you and David do when posing for victory pictures?

“I am starting to be a bit worried about how often this is being discussed this year. It started at the 2019 Finals in Rome as a spontaneous and funny celebration after one of the matches. Then we did it from time to time and it kind of stayed with us. We are both not really fans of those pseudo-authentic post-match photos when you need to arrange yourself in the best possible Instagram pose and pretend that the camera just casually made a photo of you, so you can say it is also a kind of a desperate effort to avoid it. It is a mixture between a spontaneous celebration that became a tradition and some sort of a small rebellion against the traditional social media poses.”

· Watch the Beach Pro Tour Doha Finals live on VBTV.