It was a sensational day for TeamGB’s U16s, U21s, O45s and O55s teams as the European Racketlon Championships opened with victories galore, from the crushing to the hard fought. The British team coming home with the titles in the U16s, U21s and O55s with two additional silvers in the U16s and O45s. Elsewhere, there were two Gold’s for Germany as they claimed the U13s and O45s titles (and a bronze in the O55s) and a Gold for Hungary as they claimed the O40s title (with silvers in the U13s and O55s, plus a bronze in the U16s). However, it was an exceptionally poor day for hosts Austria with only a silver and bronze to show for their home advantage. All results can be found on fir.tournamentsoftware.com.
What’s the Story? GB’s (O55s) Morning Glory!
With 6 team events to complete, it was going to be a busy one for all involved, in particular the O45s team event, with players facing the monumental task of 4 matches in the day to complete their 5 nation round robin competition. But the morning also saw action in the O40s, U16s and O55s and U21s. Host nation Austria started well, an opening victory in the O40s against Finland, however the rest of the morning did not go well for the hosts with defeats in the O45s, O55s, U16s and U21s, three of those at the hands of British sides. For the British, it was a very different morning, with crushing wins in all categories, along with Hungary, the only nations to be undefeated in the morning. However, the match of the morning pitted defending European Champions GB O55s against reigning World Champions Germany. In 2016, the Germans dominated the singles ties to claim an overall victory, but in 2017 and surrounded by British success, the GB O55s won both singles and smashed the doubles to enact revenge on defeat at the same stage last year. Germany, were now in a battle for third, while the Brits could think about Gold.
Making Hay As the Sun Shines
Into the afternoon and as the sun blazed down and temperatures soared, you may be forgiven for expecting the Brits to whither on the vine, instead they continued to shine. The afternoon followed a similar pattern to the morning session, although it started to improve for the host nation as they set up an effective final in the O40s with the last match against Hungary in the evening session. In fact, that was the story of the afternoon all round, as a number of nations set up their medal matches that would occur in the evening. In the U21s, the Brits faced Finland, who boasted regular Men’s A player Luka Penttinen in their ranks, however, he could not stop Brits and they set up a final against hosts Austria. In the O45s, Germany and Britain kept themselves on track for a final match showdown, as both sides polished off the others in the group, while in the O55s the Hungarians topped their group to set up a final against the Brits. The exception to this rule came in the U13s, were Germany’s juniors had done the damage in the opening round of matches, defeating Hungary, and now simply making sure they avoided slipping on any banana skins, which they did in the late afternoon winning their tie against Austria 1, meaning victory over Austria 2 in the evening would secure them the title.
However, the drama of the afternoon belonged in the U16s category, with both the British U16s teams, the 1s and the 2s facing effective semi-finals against Austria 1 and Hungary 1 respectively. All four sides had played one won one in their respective groups, it was all to play for. For the World Champions there was little to fear, GB U16 1s, strolling to a +49 win over Austria 1, a match that was all over before the tennis. The tie of the day, probably one of the greatest team matches of all time, however featured the GB U16 2s, Will Gregson and Ross Wilson against group favourites Hungary, Botond Francia and his teammate Balazs Szalay. The Hungarians started well, they took the opening three TT rubbers (2 x singles, 1 x doubles), however the young Brits are a plucky pair, losing all three of those rubbers 12-10. Every point counts in Racketlon, would these narrow results haunt one side later? The badminton was another clean sweep for the Hungarians, a brace of 11-8 wins and an 11-6 in the doubles put them 17 ahead after the first two sports, with just 66 points left on offer in the match. Hungary were in the box seat, and Botond kept it going for them, defeating Will in the first squash rubber 11-8, 7 straight sports for the Hungarians, but crucially for the young Brits, they were just 20 points down, 7 battles won for Hungary, but Britain were still in the war. They did need something special, to get them ticking and Ross stepped up and delivered, an 11-0 squash victory, followed up by an 11-8 squash doubles win, this spun the match on its head, the GB boys were just 6 down with three tennis rubbers to play. Botand defeated Will, but only 12-10 again, the young Brit hanging in there and minimising the damage, 8 down with two rubbers to play. Ross up next, leading 6-0 at the turn, his singles opponent, Balazs Szalay, like the plucky Brits fought back, Ross won 11-6, GB trailed by 3 into the doubles rubber. The Brits started well, an early lead 2-0 remained at the halfway stage, 6-4 at the turn. On the clay, in sun, the Hungarian’s struck back 7-7, they needed 9 for the win. 8-8, match points for Hungary, the British hopes, kept alive for so long, were surely now fading. 8-8 became 10-8, still match point Hungary, but now gumi-arm point GB, who would emerge from this tussle victorious? 11-8, the boys had clawed back from the precipice, saving 3 match points, forcing a gumi-arm. FIR rules officer (Richard Middleton) and Tournament Director Christoph Kren confirmed the rules and away we went. In team Racketlon, the gumi-arm point is played by the final match on court, so in the U16s, this is the doubles. GB won the spin, Hungary to serve, Ross Wilson to receive and as a video tells a thousand words, I’ll leave you in the hands of Shirley Barre (stick to the end for the real highlight!). Into an all GB final, a phenomenal achievement from both U16s sides.
Back in time for Tea and Medals
On the first day of a cricket test match, if you win the toss and choose to bat, the philosophy is that you work hard in the morning and afternoon, keep wickets intact and score your winning runs in the evening. For the so far undefeated GB sides, there were three finals to be played, a guaranteed gold in the all GB U16s final, but the O55s faced Hungary and the O45s faced Germany. We’ll start with the tremendous all GB final in the U16s, an event Britain has dominated through the years. After their heroics in their previous match, could the 2s shock the 1s in the final? Alas no, they could not and GB U16 1s claimed gold, for David Bennett and Luke Griffiths, adding the European title to their World Title from 2016. Hungary recovered from the gumi-arm defeat to edge out Austria 1 in a tight tussle for Bronze, the Hungarian’s winning by a solitary point, to ease some of the earlier pain. Next up were the GB O55s, who had started their day with a cracking victory over the World Champions, Germany. In most sports, in most events, defeating the World Champions in the morning would make you a shoe in for the gold medal. However, in the final they faced Hungary, led by the exceptional Peter Sakovics, and most certainly not a walkover of a side. However, having done their hard work in the morning the GB O55s were not going to let it slip, Rakesh Gupta working hard in the first two sports to keep Sakovics in check, meant that the doubles pairing (Steve Kneller & Bruce Shepherd) and the second singles player, Martyn Langston could do the damage and apply the scoreboard pressure. It worked a treat and the O55s came home with the second GB gold medal of the day. World Champions Germany finished in third place to take home Bronze. The final final of the day for GB was also the hardest, as their O45s team concluded their five team box league with a winner takes all match against the reigning World Champions Germany. The World Champions raced out into an early lead and despite the brave efforts of the O45s, channelling their inner U16 2nd team, they just couldn’t claw it back and would once again have to settle for a silver medal, the Czech Republic claiming the Bronze medal in third place.
In the U13s final round of matches, Germany hoped to repeat the feat of their senior counterparts, and they did, victory over Austria 2 ensuring that they sealed the Gold medal they earned in the first round of matches by defeating Hungary. The Hungarians brought home the Silver medal with Austria 1 in third claiming Bronze. In the O40s, it was an effective final between Austria and Hungary, and it was the Hungarians who prevailed in a great tussle, especially having lost the opening TT rubbers 11-1 and 11-2! Finland edged out Germany to claim third place and the Bronze medal.
You may have noticed that there was a complete disappearance of the U21s event from the evening session report. Well, for reasons known only to the tournament, the last match in the U21s, the effective final between Austria 1 and GB U21 was scheduled for the Saturday evening. So, after the excitement of Friday, we returned for the final team match of weekend 1 of the European Championships, as Hannah Boden, Piers Boden and Leon Griffiths faced the best that Austria had to offer, Emmanuel Schopf & Bettina Bugl in particular offering stern resistance. They may have had to wait over 24 hours between matches in the team event, but Hannah, Piers and Leon were not to be fazed. You can read what happened below, or take in the videos provided by Jo Bennett for UK Racketlon through Facebook Live here:
They edged the TT, wins for Leon and Piers, to lead 27-23 into their specialist sport as a team, badminton. It was something of a surprise when Leon lost his badminton, 9-11, but there were no such qualms for Hannah (11-3) and Piers (11-4) doing the damage, GB 17 up before the squash. Leon and Hannah cancelled each other out on the squash court, Leon winning to 8 before Hannah lost to 8, Piers coming through with an 11-5 victory to put the GB team 23 ahead, needing just 11 at the tennis across the three rubbers to claim victory. Austria, the World and defending European Champions were on the ropes, they needed a miracle, it was not forthcoming. Leon won the opening tennis set, 11-5 and that was that, a third Gold medal out of four events for TeamGB
This concluded the Junior and Senior team events, the players would now face singles and doubles competition in categories from U13s to O70s, such is the spread of Racketlon enthuisam through the ages! The Open Age team events begin next week, in the second phase of this adventurous European Championships in Austria.