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Sports 101: Raising a racket

A world champion is in our midst.

You won’t guess his sport, but I’ll throw some clues out there if you want to try:

1. He spends six days a week practicing at the Ridge Racket Club in Grass Valley.



2. His sponsor is Wilson.

3. He started playing when he was 4. Check that – he was 12. Or was it 15?




4. The sport he plays has no United States national team.

Stumped?

Johannes Schubert – a 16-year-old Austrian exchange student at Nevada Union – is racketlon’s under-16 world champion. Racketlon is a four-event sport consisting of tennis, table tennis, badminton and squash.

Schubert, who goes by “Joey” around campus at NU, started playing tennis right about the time he started to walk. He didn’t take up pingpong until he was 12, and he was 15 when he dove into badminton and squash.

Just six months later, on June 4, 2006, Schubert won the under-16 division at the Racketlon World Championships in Belgium.

In the final round, Schubert defeated a member of Belgium’s national team.

“I was like, ‘I’m going to lose,'” Schubert recalled March 19 at the Ridge Racket Club. “I got to that point where I couldn’t take another step, then I said to myself, ‘This is the world championships. Get serious.’

“It was the greatest feeling of my life when I turned world champion.”

After squaring off against Schubert in both tennis and pingpong, as we did March 19, believing he’s a world champion is easy. Beating him, however, is not.

We first played a game of tennis, in which the one point I scored made me feel like champion of Wimbledon. Table tennis was about the same; he beat me so quickly, we had time to play three games (he won 21-5, 21-6, 21-2).

What scared me a little was Schubert telling me since he came to California on Aug. 11, he hasn’t even practiced pingpong. In fact, until earlier this month, he hadn’t competed in racketlon since he left his home in Vienna.

That didn’t keep him from winning the Men’s B division of the Canadian Racketlon Open on March 11 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Men’s B division – which has no age restrictions – was the second-highest level of competition at the tournament.

“He made a comment after he got back that he didn’t realize how much he missed it,” said Mike Smith, Schubert’s host father in Grass Valley.

Schubert doesn’t plan to spend much more time away from racketlon; he practices at least one of the four components daily.

“In racketlon, you have to be talented, but you have to work a lot ’cause there are four sports,” Schubert said. “I’m playing seven times a week ’cause I want to be the best.”

With a coach for each of the four sports – meaning four times the fees – Schubert insisted he wouldn’t be able to play without his mom, Maria-Theresia Schubert, who provides for Schubert on her own.

Maria-Theresia is a professor at a Vienna university and child psychologist; Johannes calls her “the strongest and best person in the world.”

“She’s a big part of why I’m so successful,” he said. “She puts in a lot of effort, money, and mental support.”

Money isn’t something there’s a lot of in racketlon, according to Johannes.

As it’s a sport with a history tracing back barely more than 20 years into northern Europe, the popularity of racketlon is still growing.

The heart of racketlon is in Europe, especially in countries such as Finland, Sweden and Austria.

“It’s not mainstream,” Johannes said. “It’s not a television sport. If you’re not into sports, you wouldn’t know it.”

Heck, Johannes didn’t even know about it until he was a teenager.

He had already been playing tennis and pingpong competitively for years when his physical education teacher approached him about playing racketlon.

Johannes didn’t hesitate; with a tendency to grow bored playing just one sport, he said, he fell in love with the idea of racketlon the first time it was mentioned.

A couple years later, he was world champion of his age group. Johannes’s next challenge – the mention of which doesn’t elicit overflowing confidence – is the under-21 division. At this year’s world championships, which will be held in December in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Johannes will compete against players four years older.

He’s already playing kids a couple years older as a member of Nevada Union’s boys tennis team, coached by Ridge Racket Club owner Nick Bodley.

According to Bodley, his Austrian exchange has left little doubt as to who is the top player on the team. Were it not for Johannes, NU senior Jasper Fredrickson would likely be the No. 1 player.

“He had a challenge match with Jasper and won 6-0, 6-1,” Bodley said. “Pretty convincing.”

ooo

To contact Sports Writer Jeff Miller, e-mail jeffm@theunion.com or call 477-4247.


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