Slukova still as hungry and competitive as ever

Marketa Slukova has played on the World Tour since 2009

Lausanne, Switzerland. Marketa Slukova has firmly established herself on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour since she made her Tour debut in Klagenfurt alongside Krystyna Kolocova in 2009 and she is on course for her third Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020. 

The Czech blocker and Barbora Hermannova played together at Rio de Janeiro 2016 and they are currently ranked 17th in the provisional FIVB Olympic Rankings which will end in June 2021.

Along with her two Olympic Games, the 32-year-old Slukova has played in four FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships and won six World Tour titles, most recently at the Kuala Lumpur 3-Star in April 2019. 

She and Hermannova recently reached the 2020 CEV European Championships semifinals at Jurmala Beach in Latvia, the sort of success a young Slukova would not have dreamed of. 

“My first five years were quite a struggle because I was small and a little chubby and not great at volleyball,” Slukova said during the Euros. 

“As I grew older I got a little bigger and a little more confident, so from that moment on my volleyball future started to look a little brighter but even at 20 if you would have told me I would play an Olympic Games then I probably would have laughed.”

Slukova and Kolocova made their mark at a U19 World Championships and two U21 World Championships, and while they missed out on the medals, they won gold at the 2010 CEV U23 Championships. 

By then they were showing they were a competitive pair on the World Tour before qualifying for London 2012 where they surpassed their expectations by reaching the quarterfinals.

They beat Austrian sisters Doris and Stefanie Schweiger in their opening match and their run was stopped by eventual silver medallists April Ross and Jennifer Kessy. 

“Fifth was a great result,” Slukova said. “Kristine and I were a great team before with some good results, but we didn’t get so much attention and our sport didn’t get so much recognition in the Czech Republic and that really changed after London. 

“We went into that Olympics with no expectations. Simon (Nausch) was already our coach and he guided us through the whole process really well and took the pressure off us. Your first Olympics is really overwhelming. The stadiums, the attention, everything is a big deal.

“We played well, free and were outsiders in most of the games. We felt free and what I treasure the most is the result was huge for the sport. More kids started playing, the media paid attention to beach volleyball and more beach volleyball centres opened.”

Slukova (left) and Krystyna Kolocova celebrate victory in Berlin

Post-London 2012, Slukova and Kolocova continued their rise. The pair delighted their home fans at the Prague Open in 2014 by winning their first World Tour gold and then followed up by topping the podium at the Berlin Grand Slam.

A year later and following a 17th place finish at the Netherlands 2015 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships, Slukova and Kolocova went their separate ways. 

Slukova quickly teamed up with Hermannova and a race to qualify for Rio 2016 began. They eventually made it by winning the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Continental Cup

“Rio was another story,” Slukova said. “At London there was no expectation or pressure. It was a wonderful fairy story with a happy ending and Rio was different. Barbora and I teamed in 2015 and we managed to qualify without even playing with each other for a year, and we qualified in the World Continental Cup.

“It was the last chance to qualify and that was extremely exciting and an exhausting process. The stress and pressure were huge, and we won our golden set against China in a set to 15. This 10-minute match decided our work for the past years and that took a lot of energy. 

“I don’t think I have experienced anything as stressful, and it was brutal for everyone. I remember playing Vanuatu. We were 13-6 up and they had tears in their eyes. I wanted to win, but for them they would be the first team from Vanuatu to qualify for a Games, and you have just ruined their dreams in seven minutes.”

Slukova and Hermannova finished 17th after a defeat to Russia’s Ekaterina Birlova and Evgenia Ukolova in the lucky loser round. 

Hermannova (left) and Slukova celebrate reaching Rio 2016

They had been together less than a year, but with five years’ experience together, Slukova is hopeful that she and Hermannova will better prepare if they reach Tokyo 2020. 

“The most important thing I have learnt in the past two Olympic Qualification processes is that the journey is never going to be what you expect it to be, and you just need to be flexible and adjust to every situation,” Slukova said. 

“Every time that I thought that I had it figured out, something surprised me. Maybe it is an injury or team change. It means you have to relearn everything. Those moments shape you as a player and a person. But you have to be flexible and adaptable to anything.”

Should they qualify, Slukova will be the first Czech athlete to have played in three Olympic Games, quite the achievement for someone who found volleyball anything but easy at first. 

“I was ambitious and determined, disciplined and committed. But at that time, I didn’t know if I would be good enough or the team would be good enough to play an Olympic Games,” she said. 

“Now 22 years later, it’s a very humbling realisation to know it’s possible and knowing that I am the only Czech player to compete at two Olympic Games is really nice.”

FIVB – Volleyball World