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Anders Mol and Christian Sørum: World No. 1 men’s beach volleyball duo on rising through the ranks ahead of Tokyo 2020

While Mol’s mother and father are former volleyball and beach volleyball champions — Sørum’s parents met on a volleyball court when they were playing recreationally — eventually passing down their love for the game to their children.

Despite initially pursuing football, Sørum was encouraged to play volleyball, thanks to a competitive streak he shared with his younger brother.

“I kind of joined him and my father and my mom, so in the beginning, it was just a family activity,” Sørum tells CNN Sport. “But after a while, it was fun and I started to get better.”

“We also went to tournaments, the world championship,” he says. “I really fell in love with the sport on a higher level […] So from that point, I slowed down on football and I played more and more volleyball.”

Making Norway proud

Looking forward to the duo’s first Olympics this summer, Sørum says, “I want to be as good as I could be in this sport.”

Both players have certainly stood each other in good stead for Tokyo 2020, where they’re among the favorites for gold.

They have eclipsed a host of beach volleyball players with record-breaking career earnings, winning 13 gold medals on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour across several years of competition together.
In 2020, the pair made history again, when they became the youngest team to win three successive European Championship gold medals.
Norwegian men's beach volleyball duo Anders Mol (right) and Christian Sørum (left) are favorites for gold at Tokyo 2020.

“To be that person that represents your country in beach volleyball, it’s huge because on the way there, we have had so many teammates and opponents that always also wanted to go to the Olympics […] everyone had the same dream and now it’s only two left,” Sørum says.

“I’m just grateful for the opportunity we have to do it. We will do our best and make Norway proud,” he adds.

They could bring home Norway’s first beach volleyball Olympic medal this year.

“In Tokyo and being a favorite, the only thing that means is that you have played good volleyball before, it doesn’t mean that you will win the match at all,” Sørum says.

“I think we have to try to enter the Olympics as the underdogs because we have never been there, and we have to be hungry for winning and hungry for giving it our all,” he adds.

A family affair

For Mol, this won’t be the first time a family member has taken part in the Olympics. His mother, former beach volleyball player Merita Berntsen, competed in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

“She has given us a lot of mental tips here and there,” he says. “It’s just to try to do your best.”

“I think me and Christian have a good mentality. We always give it our all, it doesn’t matter who we play against,” he adds. “Of course, it’s going to be bigger than any other event that we have ever experienced before, so that’s going to be difficult, or is going to be different at least.”

“But of course, I want to beat mom, so we have to do better than that,” he says. “It would really be a dream come true to take home the gold medal and celebrate with the family, who is all behind this.”

Mol (right) and Sørum (left) are coached by Mol's father, Kåre Mol, as part of the Beachvolley Vikings.
His father, Kåre Mol, coaches him and Sørum as part of the Beachvolley Vikings, a quartet also comprised of his brother Hendrik Mol and cousin Mathias Berntsen.

“I’m kind of brainwashed because I have two parents playing beach volleyball and being coaches, but I really love the sport and I can’t imagine myself doing anything else,” Mol says.

“I’m so happy I made this choice, I’m living my dream,” he adds.

Having close-knit ties with his family both on and off the court has helped him stay grounded and focused, a dynamic he doesn’t take for granted.

“We are a really close group and we’re super honest with each other,” he says. “I think it’s a big reason why we’re the number one team in the world right now.”

A special connection

Sørum is widely regarded as one of the best defensive players in the world, and Mol is also considered one of the sport’s top attacking players, each known for their huge jump serves and powerful blocking spikes.

Even though the duo has an enviable set of somatic skills, they say the secret to their success is their level of mental intuition.

In a fast-paced game where there is little time to communicate with one’s teammate in between shots, instinct is key.

“That’s the good thing about Anders, when we step on the court together, I know that he will do his 100%, and then I want to do my 100% back,” Sørum says. “In this way, we push each other in every session.”

“We have a lot of fun on and off the court,” he adds. “We have a lot of passion […] and a lot of love for the sport.”

Mol agrees, saying, “I think we have a really special deal, me and Christian.”

They are equally ambitious and passionate about their goals, and admit that while they revel in victory, the hours of training and commitment that are required are just as much part of their journey as their success.

“You can’t always love winning gold medals because that’s such a small goal,” Sørum says. “It’s fun to win medals, but you have to have fun on the way.”

Gaining perspective

Last spring, Mol and Sørum were preparing to go to Mexico for a FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour event in Cancun. But as the coronavirus pandemic surged, the tournament was called off, and both players had to cancel their flights, eventually staying in Norway for the rest of the summer.

Mol says he found creative ways of practicing inside his house with his brothers, using two posts to hold up a net and playing sitting volleyball, and using car tires in place of weights for strength training.

“That was the early days […] when we didn’t know that we were in lockdown, we didn’t know how long this was going to last,” he says. “We had to get creative because we could not see each other in a pretty long time.”

However, the duo had the opportunity to spend some time away from the professional arena and gain perspective.

The duo appears in the feature-length documentary, "One Extraordinary Year," a Red Bull film which follows elite athletes, and how their lives changed during the pandemic.

“I think we have learned that there is another life than volleyball, that was a big shock for us,” Mol says. “Because we have been so locked into this bubble […] going from one tournament to the other. But now, we get time to breathe a little bit and see the life that we had from another perspective.”

They also made time for extracurricular activities, with Sørum investing in his real estate hobby, and the Beachvolley Vikings taking a road trip across Norway. The team also set up boot camps for kids aged 11 to 18 in Strandvik, Kristiansand, Stavanger and Oslo, in order to encourage young people to take up the sport.

“We got the chance to actually see our own country, and it was amazing,” Mol says.

“It was really good to just have time to get your head out of the volleyball bubble a little bit and do some things that we always wanted to do,” he adds.

Returning to the court

In 2020, Mol was also nursing a hip injury, with small micro fractures in both of his legs. He says that during his recovery period, he lost confidence in his ability. Instead, he had to build up his mental resilience.

“You have to be patient,” he says. “You still have to believe that, OK, you still have the level inside of you. You have to trust your muscle memory, that you haven’t really forgotten how to play volleyball.”

“This is a much more dynamic game than anything else, so it’s you against your opponent, and your opponent is going to go for the weakest person on the team. And if that’s going to be me and I can’t handle it, then we’re losing games,” he adds.

(Left to right) Ruben Penninga of Holland, and Mol and Sørum during the match between King of the Court v Beachvolleybal on September 11, 2020 in Utrecht, Netherlands. The pair have excelled since returning to the court in 2021.
With both players staying in different cities last summer — Mol in Strandvik and Sørum in Oslo — they had little time to practice together. The duo had also played only one tournament in 2020.

Taking these factors into account, Mol admits he was nervous for their two matches as part of the men’s FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour event in Mexico in April 2021.

But since making their way back to the court, the duo has leveled a series of strong performances against its opponents. They won both of their games in Cancun, powering through extreme heat to win against Qatari team Cherif Samba and Ahmed Tijan twice in the space of six days.

“I think we actually played the best volleyball that we have ever played. So it was good to see that we still keep a really high level, even though we haven’t really practiced that much together,” Mol says.

‘This is only the beginning’

Having achieved so much in so little time, Sørum says it can be difficult to process what the team has managed to accomplish so far.

“You don’t have time to realize all the things we have achieved because you’re always thinking about the next tournament and the next preparation,” he says. “But we have tried sometimes to talk about it and to really like woah, it’s really amazing what we’ve done already.”

“With the family they are really, really proud. We wouldn’t have been here without them. And also a lot of coaches through the years, a lot of teammates, a lot of opponents, all this has developed us into the players we are today,” he adds.

Mol agrees, saying, “We feel proud as well, there’s a lot of hard work behind it. But we haven’t really realized what we have achieved in the last three years because it’s gone so fast and we’re still young and we still have a lot more to learn. We haven’t developed as volleyball players. I feel like we can still play volleyball at a higher level.”

Mol and Sørum hope they can use their platform to increase the visibility of beach volleyball.

“We still have a lot more to do, this is only the beginning,” Mol adds. “I’m excited for the future and of course, really proud of what we have done so far, but we’re not satisfied yet.”

Moving forward the pair hopes they can use their platform to increase the visibility of the sport worldwide, and be remembered for their legacy off the court as much as on it.

“I would like to be able to share my experience with other kids […] help the sport grow and reach its full potential because it really is an amazing sport to play and to watch,” says Mol.

“It’s dynamic, you have to be really athletic to play it, it’s part mental. There’s so many aspects of the game that I really love,” he adds.

Sørum agrees, saying, “I hope that our legacy will be that we are good volleyball players. But also, like Anders said, we want to grow the sport and to be remembered as nice people, this is something that’s important for us.”

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