John Mayer stood outside the player’s tent, not looking particularly disappointed despite being knocked out of the Huntington Beach Open less than an hour prior. He and Trevor Crabb had played their best match yet, he said. Norway’s then-relatively unknown youngsters, Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, had simply played better.
“The blocker,” Mayer said, “reminds me of Phil (Dalhausser).”
A 20-year-old kid? Compared to Phil Dalhausser?
Had it been almost anyone else making that statement, an eye roll, a sigh, would have been acceptable. But Mayer isn’t one to simply dole out hyperbolic comments or undeserved praise. By year’s end, his comparison didn’t seem absurd, rather prescient.
Eight months later, Mol and Sorum are the undisputed best team in the world, and indeed, Mol was named the FIVB Blocker of the Year, with Sorum claiming Defender of the Year. As a team, they won Gstaad, and Vienna, and Hamburg, and then made yet another final in San Jose.
“If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that anyone would win three tournaments in a row,” Sorum said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, “I would have said absolutely not.”
Perhaps only Mayer could have foreseen it. There’s no real reason anyone could have forecasted the breakthrough, not to these heights, at least. Prior to the Gstaad Major in mid-July, a Norwegian beach volleyball team hadn’t won a medal since 1997. The same year Mol was born.
It was uncanny, their poise in such a moment.
“We didn’t think about that at all,” Mol said. “You can’t think about that at all or you’ll lose. You have to stay in your own bubble. We don’t think about the crowd. We don’t think about what if we win and what can happen if we win. We just think about our game and the next ball and what we’re going to do and make a plan for every ball.
“When you see the videos we are really calm and really focused and not that many emotions from us.”
“We also,” Sorum added, “had a little bit of luck.”
They’re endearing, these Norwegians. Impossibly humble for such accomplished athletes, ones who rose from the qualifiers to the top of the world in half a year’s time. It’s a humility begat from both being products of a small town — Mol’s village has 500 “inhabitants,” as he described it — and taking the time to see the world in all of its massive beauty.
They’re volleyball players, yes, but they’ve taken on much more than that. They don’t simply bounce from hotel to hotel, AirBNB to AirBNB. There’s more to life than volleyball for them.
“I was sad for like two minutes in Hawai’i,” Sorum said, “and then I was like ‘Yes! We get to go see Hawai’i!’”
“I was stoked!” Mol’s brother, Hendrik, a University of Hawai’i alum, added.
They’ve explored, drinking in not just the beach volleyball life but the lifestyle that comes with it. In the gap between Warsaw and Espinho, Portugal, they saw a good deal of Poland. After getting knocked out in Russia, they saw Jay Z and Beyonce. Between San Jose and Las Vegas, they’ve become honorary South Bay residents after checking Yosemite off the bucket list.
It’s how they stay fresh, enthused, thrilled about this warp-speed lives their living.
“I think that’s really important just to get our minds off of volleyball for a little,” Mol said. “There is so much volleyball and also, in our family, we talk volleyball all the time. It’s really good just to get some days off when we’re not playing. I think that’s really important to keep our minds fresh and not always think about volleyball.”
While they give their minds a rest from volleyball, nearly everyone in volleyball is thinking about them.
“This off-season,” Jake Gibb said, “there’s going to be a lot of Norwegian film going around.”
You don’t have to look hard for it. They upload every match, along with highly entertaining vlogs of their travels, onto their YouTube channel, Beach Volley Vikings, for all the world to see. And that’s exactly the point: They want to grow the game. If they can put out information that will help others learn, that’s exactly what they’ll do.
“Just watch some video of these guys,” Hendrik said. “It’s great learning from these guys. They’re great athletes, they have some of the best technique in the game. Check them out for sure.”
Lord knows the rest of the world is.
As for the Norwegians?
They’re checking out the rest of the world.