After a golden week in the Bahamas, England’s new Commonwealth Youth Games beach volleyball champions, Javier and Joaquin Bello, are back at home – and already preparing for their next competition.
“We landed back in England on Tuesday morning but then trained on Wednesday and had a gym session this morning (Thursday)”, explained Javier. “There’s no time for a break as we’re at Weymouth this weekend for the VEBT event and then off to Cyprus next Thursday for the Youth Continental Cup as we aim to qualify for the Youth Olympics.”
Even if their packed schedule doesn’t allow too much time for celebration, it’s clear how much the recent event meant to the twins, who turned 17 during the competition.
“It’s definitely the best event we’ve ever played in,” said Joaquin. “Multi-sport events like this are so special and we had loads of support throughout from our Team England colleagues, the travelling support, on social media and back at home. Being selected to be the flag bearers at the closing ceremony was the icing on the cake, partly because that decision was made by Sarah Winckless, the team’s chef de mission who was herself an Olympic rower, and partly because she had 22 other gold medallists (and 51 in total) to choose from.”
“We did think we might try to both hold the flag as we went round,” chipped in Javier. “But in the end, we settled for the more sensible option of taking half a lap each!”
The pair’s route to the gold medal was seemingly untroubled as they didn’t lose a single set in any of their five matches. New Zealand got closer than anyone else, taking 18 points off the Bellos in the very first set of the competition.
New Zealand, Australia and Cyprus had long been earmarked as the biggest threats ahead of the competition – the first time that beach volleyball had featured at the Games – and so it proved.
“Beating Australia in the semi-final was probably our toughest game as they’d been playing better than us up until that point in the competition”, said Javier. “The games against them and New Zealand were all about avoiding their big block. For Cyprus, Aden [coach Aden Tutton] switched the game plan so it was all about working around their defender and serving hard on the one weaker player – and it all worked perfectly.”
Despite the recent adulation, success certainly hasn’t gone to their heads. The boys are still just as set on their long-term goal of combining volleyball (both beach and indoor) and securing places at University. Before school restarts though, there are competitions in Spain and Russia to contend with, plus the incentive of hopefully being selected for the CEV U-20 beach championships in September.
Also doing England proud at the Commonwealth Youth Games were the girls’ pair of Yasmin Kaashoek and Ellie Austin. The pair eventually finished a highly credible 5th, having been lumbered with a tough draw which saw them play both Australia and New Zealand – the sides who would go on to contest the gold medal match – in the earlier stages of the competition.
Despite losing their opening group game to Australia, the pair bounced back to qualify for the quarter-finals with a 2-0 win over the Bahamas. In their quarter-final against New Zealand, they took the 2nd set by a convincing 21-11 margin to force a deciding set but couldn’t quite maintain that momentum, eventually losing 15-11 in the 3rd.
After that narrow defeat, the girls returned in determined mood to clean up in the losers’ bracket, seeing off both Vanuatu and the Bahamas (again) in comprehensive fashion to claim 5th place.
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