Anders Mol and Christian Sørum lived up to their hype in a two-set victory over Russians Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy (21-17, 21-18). The Norwegians are the youngest team in Olympic history to win Gold in beach volleyball, and they’re the first in their country to win a beach medal at all.
This young Norwegian duo – aptly dubbed the Beachvolley Vikings – has taken the world by storm. They began together in 2017 and took about a year to find their footing. But once they did, it’s been magic ever since. Mol and Sørum had won the final three FIVB events in 2018 and seven more in 2019. They were 21 and 22 when they won their first FIVB together, and then promptly won two more.
It’s hard to identify what makes this team so good. Mol and Sørum have been recognized by the FIVB as the two best at what they do, with Sørum winning Best Defensive Player in 2018 and 2019 and Mol winning… well, I’ll just lay it out:
Best Blocker 2018, 2019
Best Offensive Player 2018, 2019
Most Outstanding 2018, 2019
Best Setter 2019
Most Improved Player 2018
They also were the World Tour Champs in 2018 and won Team of the Year in 2019. Mol winning Most Outstanding Player two years in a row is pretty spectacular. His overall game is incredible, but his block is gnarly. Mol gets so low, literally touching the ground. His eyes are on the hitter as he jumps, his arms extended almost entirely over the net. Mol can jump and grab attacks like old-school Phil Dalhausser, and we all know how good that is.
Though Mol received most of the awards, Sørum is no shlump in the back row. His volleyball IQ is Misty May-like; it’s like he knows what you’re going to do before you do. And at 6’4”, his transition offense is superb. They’re one of those teams where you don’t know who to serve or challenge on the attack because they’re both so good. Ten FIVB wins in two years proves said dominance.
The Covid break, however, challenged their seemingly unstoppable reign as supreme. Mol struggled with a hip injury, and their momentum abruptly halted. When play resumed in 2021, their rollercoaster finishes before the Olympics left us all wondering if there’d be more Norwegian magic.
Mol sat out the first tournament in Doha, Qatar, due to injury. Naturally, everyone worried about his return. They need not have since Mol and Sørum won their first two 2021 tournaments together in Cancun. They then wrapped up the pre-Olympic events with 17th in Sochi, 9th in Ostrava, and 5th in Gstaad.
The Beachvolley Vikings entered Tokyo with a nagging injury, a few uncharacteristically low recent finishes, and heavy expectations placed upon them. They delivered, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Unlike the A-Team who rolled over their competition, Mol and Sørum had a few hard-fought battles. They didn’t even win their pool, losing in two sets to the other ROC duo, Leshukov/Semenov. Meanwhile, their upcoming Gold Medal match opponents and reigning World Champs Krasilnikov and Stoyanovskiy won their pool (even with a loss to Latvia’s Plavins/Tocs).
Both teams then beat each successive opponent in straight sets until the Gold Medal match. Stoyanovskiy, the Russian blocker, is another exciting young talent. At 24 years old and 6’9”, this guy is built for volleyball. His partner Krasilnikov was the most senior on the Gold Medal court by a half-decade, but that still only makes him 30. Krasilnikov won FIVB Best Defender in 2017, the year before Sørum won it twice. These two teams are well-matched. Though the Norwegians are considered the best in the world, the ROC duo is the reigning World Champs, and they just beat the Beachvolley Vikings in Gstaad. In straight sets.
The beginning of the match didn’t look good for the Norwegians. They appeared jumpy and nervous, making uncharacteristic errors and letting the weight of the match lay heavy on their shoulders. But after the first side switch, they found their stride and took over. Once Mol and Sørum regained the lead, they maintained it until the last ball fell at match point.
Their elation after winning was touching. Sørum tackled Mol, both heaving with exertion and excitement. Once they soaked in the moment, they found and congratulated their opponents and exchanged jerseys. Gotta love the mutual respect between teams.
Mol’s dad is their coach, so father and son could physically embrace after the momentous achievement. Mol’s mom Merita Berntsen was a 1996 beach volleyball Olympian, and though she serves as the Beachvolley Vikings’ mental coach, she wasn’t in attendance. It’s still cool that it’s a family affair for these two very deserving and impressive young athletes.
If their talent wasn’t enough to make you love them, everyone I’ve talked to who knows Mol and Sørum says they’re actually really cool. They also share their secrets, wanting to grow and better the game rather than hold their cards close to the chest. It’s rare to be so confident in your game that you’re willing to share how the sausage is made. Makes you root for them even more.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my other favorite FIVB teams – Cherif and Ahmed of Qatar. At 25 and 26, they’re another emerging and promising young team. They scooped up the Bronze with a 21-12, 21-18 win over Latvia’s Plavins/Tocs. And their celebration was classic. Cherif fell to his knees, burying his face in the sand and praying. Ahmed ran laps around the court with jubilance. Their appreciation was so heartfelt and unique to them. Though Cherif and Ahmed would have loved to add another Gold, they’re bringing home only the eighth Olympic Medal ever for their country. Qatar won their first Gold Medals this year – one in weightlifting and a shared Gold in high jump (which is another Olympic story you need to know).