Humans of Beach Handball: Roman Kalashnikov
The man, the myth, the legend.
He’s there. He’s always there. Always at the beach.
The one you’ll notice when players and fans crowd around him. Asking for an autograph. Posing for a quick selfie.
He’s the legend. He’s the one that people stop and stare at when he walks by.
“That’s him,” they’ll whisper. “That’s Roman Kalashnikov – the beach handball phenomenon.”
An icon is born
As sporting legends go, Roman Kalashnikov is one of the most unassuming. Always smiling, always happy to talk – and absolutely 100 per cent crazy for beach handball. It is that single-minded dedication and passion for the sport that has made him the most respected and most recognisable.
To have earned the admiration of fellow players and fans has been the result of endless time, effort and sheer devotion to a sport which began in 2004 for the then 17-year-old student.
“Beach handball first came into my life when I was studying at the Faculty of Economics and Management, and after university I would go to the beach to rest,” explains Kalashnikov. “I was asked if I wanted to try this version of handball – beach handball. I was like ‘sure’ and I instantly fell in love with it. I continued to practise and practise and eventually we began to enter tournaments and the rest is history.”
He did not have to wait long for his talents on the sand to have a positive effect on Russian beach handball. At the 2007 Beach Handball EURO in Misano Adriatico in Italy, a 20-year-old Kalashnikov played a small part in helping his countrymen claim gold at the European Championships.
Having burst on to the scene as a young and talented player, his work and passion for developing beach handball in Russia was also beginning to bear fruit as Kalashnikov began playing for the club his father, Vladimir started, Ekaterinodar Krasnodar, in 2009.
And it was while playing with Ekaterinodar that Roman single-handedly changed the game forever. For the first time, a right-handed player was playing on the right side of the court.
This simple tactic had explosive results and would ensure that Kalashnikov’s name was written into beach handball folklore.
“I think between 2009 and 2010 when we started playing with Ekaterinodar we continued to play in many Europe competitions and that freedom meant we could try new things – and that’s when I started playing in the right corner,” he says. “I had a lot of success with this strategy and it wasn’t until about 2012 that other teams decided to copy it.”
The goals, the medals and the MVP awards soon began to flow and Ekaterinodar were one of the most feared clubs on the European Beach Tour.
Three-times Champions Cup winners and string of silver medals at Beach Handball EUROs and ebt Finals told their own story.
With Russia winning silver medals at Beach Handball EUROs in 2009, 2011 and 2013, and with Ekaterinodar regular medal winners at EHF club competitions, life at the beach for Kalashnikov was good.
The only downside to all this success was something that can resonate with all beach handball players: missing their family.
Roman is no different. So much so that when his daughter, Barbara, was born, he was not there to witness it. He was playing at a beach handball tournament and could not be beside his wife, Sveta.
“There have been some strange situations because of my relationship with beach handball,” admits Kalashnikov. “My daughter’s birthday is 30 May, and since 2011 I have missed many of her birthdays. When she was born I was not there. I had only one chance in life to witness that and I missed it. Often she would say ‘where’s dad?’ and ‘what is he doing all summer?’”
The sacrifices that Roman has had to make for beach handball made him stop and think. While his family to not hail from a beach background, missing the birth of his daughter gave him a reality check. And that is when where his father, Vladimir, helps run things at Ekaterinodar. It enables Roman to spend more time with his young family.
“My father has helped so much, to not only help the sport become more popular in Russia, but to give us the opportunity to travel and play across Europe,” says Kalashnikov. “From finding sponsors and sorting out our hotels and flights he has done so much for us. Without him we would not have been this successful.”
The Olympic Dream
Roman might be 33 now and he may no longer be the only right-handed guy playing on the right – but that doesn’t mean his hero status has diminished in the years that have followed. Kalashnikov continues to be a source of inspiration for the next generation of beach handball stars.
“First of all, I am just Roman,” he says, honestly. He has always been humble. “I’ve said many times before that I have been privileged to have had good people and good players around me.
“I know many people who have come up to me and told me how good they think I am. It is nice but what I have noticed is that these people are players and good players who are doing better spin shots than me – trying better shots than me.”
For a player who has achieved so much and helped raise the profile of the game to such an extent, the one crowning moment that is missing from his career is an appearance at the Olympics.
“Paris is coming 100 per cent,” he laughs. There is a driven, seriousness and positiveness about the way he says these words.
Whether or not in four years’ time he will be playing in France remains to be seen. “Maybe as a coach or specialist to help Russia if they take part,” he adds.
In what could be beach handball’s magic moment, on the sport’s Olympic debut, wouldn’t it be fitting if the most decorated player was there to be a part of it?
“That’s Roman Kalashnikov,” they’ll whisper when he walks past.
“He’s the legend of beach handball.”