Not everyone can boast of being the best in the world.
But Qatar’s beach volleyball stars, Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan can proudly announce it.
Just as they were gearing up for their maiden appearance at Olympics as a pair, Cherif and Tijan plunged to the top of the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) ranking for the first time in July last year following a brilliant display of endurance and accuracy during the highly competitive World Tour events around the world.
They have come a long way since their maiden appearance as partners on sand.
In a fast-paced sport like beach volleyball, the understanding between the two players is of utmost importance.
On the occasion of the National Sport Day (NSD), The Peninsula spoke to the World No.1 and Tokyo Games bronze medallist duo in an exclusive interview during which Tijan said the bond between him and Cherif is a key reason behind their success.
“We met here in Doha in 2012. Then we started practising together at El Jaish Club. And then from there we moved to the national team. We still continue to play together, grow together and we live together also. So it’s a long term process. Yeah, it’s not something new. We have known each other for a very long time,” said Tijan as he brought back the memories.
“Playing for many years together in the same club has helped us a lot. In the national team we are together for almost eight years now. We also work together in the Police,” Tijan said.
Cherif and Tijan won the historic gold for Qatar at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2018, emerging as the most dominant pair on sand in the continent.
Two years prior to that, they had won the silver medal at the Asian Beach Games in Da Nang, Viet Nam.
Cherif recalled that winning the Asian medals was the first step towards their rise to the top.
“Well, we had some targets like the Asian Games and the Asian Championship. Those were our first steps towards becoming the top players in the world. So we tried to achieve target by target and then yeah, here we are on top of the world,” Cherif noted.
Cherif said the No. 1 title did not come with ease and highlighted that maintaining the top stop will be equally challenging.
“Like Ahmed said, it’s a long process. It’s not something easy. There were ups and downs, but we just keep working hard. And to be in the top is not quite easy. Staying there is the most difficult part. I mean, last year we were really looking to be consistent during every tournament, trying to make at least the same result or something better. So that’s the main thing that helped us last year to be in the top of the world,” Cherif said.
During last year’s FIVB World Tour, the pair reached the podium on seven occasions in 10 appearances. Cherif and Tijan emerged victorious in two of those events, namely the World Tour Doha 1 Star and the $150,000 Cancun Hub – 3rd event in Cancún, Mexico.
Tijan recalled the level of competition during the World Tour which he rated as outstanding.
“It’s not like we feel as better than other competitors. Others also feel the same how we feel because we are all good. There is no favouritism for us. All we are all same. So the competition is also very high. Yes it’s a matter of a small mistake. Everybody is good,” he said.
Tokyo 2020 was Cherif’s second participation in Games, having reached the Round of 16 at Rio – partnered by Jefferson Pereira.
This time, at the 32nd Olympiad, Cherif and Tijan earned Qatar’s third medal after Mutaz Barshim’s gold in high jump and Fares Ibrahim’s gold in weightlifting.
“It’s a great feeling. Olympics is the top event in the world that every athlete wishes to play. So it’s an honour for us also to attend it and to win something for Qatar. And it’s so great. It’s a great opportunity to be there. And yeah, we have more chances to play in Olympics in future too. So now we are focused on the upcoming challenges and we are really looking forward to it,”Cherif said.
“After we won the medal, we felt great. We gave a really good performance because before the tournament started it was announced that we are number one. Being number one and playing in such an event was not an easy weight to carry. It was an honour to be there and play as No. 1 but we wanted more. But you know, that’s how we did,” Cherif added.
The 6’ 4” tall player did not forget to mention the support extended by the Qatar Olympic Committee – led by its President H E Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
“His Excellency Sheikh Joaan congratulated us and said he wished the best of luck for us to be able to do more in the future because we are young and we have a lot of years to play. They were really, really happy and really proud of us. It’s an honour for us,” Cherif said.
“Now we get so much support from the fans and people really start to recognise us more and more. We received greetings from the Olympic Committee, from the media in Qatar, and especially after the Olympics we felt that people really start to get interested in the sport,” Cherif said.
Cherif and Tijan are in the forefront when it comes to bringing joy to Qatar’s fans, who are no strangers to celebrations with regard to sport.
In fact, Qatar – the sport capital of the world - is the only country to have a dedicated holiday to celebrate a National Sport Day. Being actively involved in National Sport Day activities over the years, Cherif and Tijan reiterated the importance of plus points of the special day which will be celebrated across the country tomorrow.
Being action-ready in both body and mind is of utmost importance for any sportsman or sportswoman and the reliable beach volleyball pair knows the value of it.
“It means a lot for everyone including all athletes. It is very very important for our mental health and also for our physical health. So I mean, it’s really good to have a dedicated Sport Day. It’s a really good opportunity for everyone to understand that how sport is important in life in general,” Cherif said.
“During the National Sport Day, everyone is trying to participate in activities. Not just on the National Sport Day, but after that too. They involve in activities like running or doing some sport which will help them take care of their bodies as well as mental health,” Cherif said.
Cherif and Tijan are eying more and more accolades this year, and the Beach Volleyball World Championships in Rome is their biggest target for the coming months.
“Yes. We have a lot of tournaments coming up, including the World Championship in June (June 7-19). The World Championship is one of our targets and also the Asian Games (in Hangzhou, China from September 10-25). And then we have the new format in FIVB, the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour which will see the best 16 teams of the world playing against each other. So whose are the main targets that we are looking forward to achieve, to play in our highest possible level and to stay on the top,” Tijan said.
However, Tijan also said he and Cherif expect there will be a lot of challenges in their future events, but said they will be ready to face them.
“There are a lot of teams that can challenge us. There are the Norwegians who are brilliant. Playing against them is always challenging. And then there are some teams from the Netherlands – very strong teams. They are young, but they have a lot of power. There are always surprises. Sometimes you never see them. But we are always ready for those challenges. We are ready both mentally and physically. It is not easy to be at the top. You need to fight a lot to stay there,” Tijan said ahead of the departure for Spain where they will train ahead of the season opener in March.