Golden oldies sparkle on beach volleyball tour


John Hyden is still going strong at 45

Lausanne, Switzerland, February 20, 2018 – For many people who are getting older, retiring to a life on the beach seems like a good option. For John Hyden, Phil Dalhausser, Nick Lucena, Larissa França and Talita Antunes, they’re getting older, they’re on the beach and they’re having fun but retirement is still a long way off.

“At the moment I feel I could go on forever,” Hyden told Hyden, who at 45 is the oldest player competing in the Beach Major Series. In fact, he’s the oldest ever, but he’s not the only “oldie” out there.

Fellow Americans Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena – gold medallists at last year’s Swatch Beach Volleyball FIVB World Tour Finals – will both be 38 when they compete at next month’s Fort Lauderdale Major. Last year, Larissa and Talita – both 35 – finished third in the FIVB Beach World Championship and ended the year ranked No. 1 in the world.

Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena won gold at the 2017 Swatch Beach Volleyball World Tour Finals

“There are times when I’m playing against teams whose combined age doesn’t even equal mine, which is nuts,” says father-of-two Hyden, who didn’t even start beach volleyball until he was 29. “Did I really think I could play into my 40s? Hell, no. There were guys retiring at 35, 36 – but I don’t think I hit my stride until I was 37, 38, 39.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Since beach volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1996, the average age of the gold-medal winners has been 30. In London 2012, legendary American duo Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May Treanor were 34 and 35 years old, respectively, when they won the gold medal. “It helps we’re able to train and play on a surface that’s friendly to us!” jokes three-time Olympic champion Walsh. “The older you get the more grounded you get.”

But there’s no shortage of gold for the “silver” set. At the World Tour Finals in Hamburg last year, Dalhausser and Lucena had a combined age of 75 but still took the gold medal.

“The most important skill in the game for me is, and always will be, ball control,” says Dalhausser. “Nick and I did that pretty well last season.” Dalhausser and Lucena ended the season as the year’s top money winners, but with the gain comes a certain amount of pain.

Says Dalhausser: “There are definitely days when I’m on court, or in the gym, when I say to myself, ‘I don’t feel like sweating or breathing heavy today. It’s most difficult at the end of a season where now I can’t have too much time off otherwise my body will hurt and I’ll feel out of shape. Now, I need to stay loose to avoid that in the off-season. You just have to look after your body.”

Hyden agrees: “The daily grind gets harder and harder the older you get. You need to get your body ready again and again and it’s not easy. It takes its toll, but you push through it. Mentally, however, it is hard. You begin asking yourself, ‘Can I do this for another year every day?’ It’s a fight.”

While it would be easy to say that beach volleyball is a sport that suits older people, that would be misleading. There are just as many young stars on the beach, such as Brazil’s Andre, the youngest ever men’s world champion at 22, or Andre’s compatriot Duda, who won her first gold medal on the World Tour at 17. While youngsters have the edge in fitness, the veterans have the experience.

“In my opinion there are so many little nuances in the game which you learn the longer you play,” explains Dalhausser. Work smarter, not harder is the American’s philosophy.

“Never underestimate mental toughness,” says Hyden. “It knows no bounds. Obviously, I don’t move as quick as I used to, but the mental game takes over – knowing how to control a game.”

Larissa and Talita claimed bronze at the 2017 Swatch Beach Volleyball World Tour Finals

Current world No. 1 Talita tapped into this experience when she was younger.

“Several factors helped me and one of them was the opportunity of playing with older athletes in the beginning of my career,” recalls the 35-year-old, who will miss the 2018 season to give birth to her first child. 

Record-breaking Andre echoes Talita’s thoughts. “Experience plays a key role in beach volleyball, so it’s pretty important that you mature well,” says the talented young Brazilian, who in the 2016 season played alongside Ricardo Santos, the 2004 Olympic champion 20 years his senior. “Experiencing as many situations as possible ultimately makes the difference in close games. I’ve been trying to mature since I started playing and I was very lucky to have the opportunity of training with players like Alison, Bruno and Fabio Luiz, who were seasoned on the World Tour and in the Olympics. Playing with Ricardo was amazing. What I learned in six months with him, especially on the mental side, I’d have probably taken much longer if I was with someone else. I can tell that my understanding of the game improved a lot because of him.”

One other problem older players sometimes face has nothing to do with beach volleyball at all. When players or their partner start having children, priorities change, commitments increase and down time is hard to find. Hyden has a wife and two children – Samantha, 11, and Jackson, 4 – and he has to think of them just as much as his sport.

“The off-season becomes more and more important with every year,” he says. “You want to spend time with your family, but you still need to look after yourself, eat the right things and train properly.”