As Javier Bello leapt into the air and smashed the volleyball for the last time, the ball flying away, he and his brother’s shoulders had already sagged in resignation. In the biggest match of their career, in front of the 4,000 spectators they entertained with their own excellence, they had gradually been smothered by the skill and greater experience of their Canadian opponents. They lost 15-21, 21-13, 15-7 to Canadians Sam Schachter and Daniel Dearing in the semi-finals of the Commonwealth Games.
Over the last ten days in the middle of Smithfield, Javier and Joaquin Bello have been putting on a show – two talented and dynamic young twin brothers determined to put beach volleyball on the map in this country. The couple were born in Madrid but moved to London as children. At 22, they are double champions of Great Britain and trained by their father, a former volleyball player.
They are hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, playing in a stadium erected on a glorified construction site, but the scenes were unforgettable. The music, the dancers fluttering across the field every time the competitors walk away, the breathless enthusiasm of the audience for a sport that many had probably never seen on television before this event. And especially the show; On Friday, the Bello brothers narrowly edged a skilful Gambia side in a fierce and tense three-set match that ended in an outrageous end point, giving them the chance to play for a medal.
A day later they went through a terrific opening set, with Javier relentlessly firing winning spikes. Joaquin, his twin fire ice, was eternally strong, constantly picking up points with his blocks and composure. They had the crowd in the palm of their hands, the audience exploding as they took the opening set.
But the Canadian team is older, higher ranked and more experienced. They had gone through the rounds unbeaten and quickly showed their class. As they turned the page on the first set, they were flawless, shrugging off mistakes as Dearing constantly rose to make spectacular blocks. “I felt like there was no way to get through them at some point,” Javier said.
As they digested the loss, Javier, the more emotional of the two, buried his head in a towel. He spoke bitterly of the missed opportunity, but even through his frustration he acknowledged his hopes that this will only be the beginning. That these Commonwealth Games will allow such a discreet sport in Great Britain to have a more permanent audience.
“I hope thousands of people have seen what beach volleyball is, what it looks like,” he said. “I think it was missing in the UK – a lot of people hadn’t seen it. Anyone who saw it for the first time now thinks how amazing the sport is, what a spectacle it is , a show.
“The music, the DJ, the dancing, the entertainment. It’s beach volleyball, that’s how it should always be and I just hope we get more opportunities to play in a stadium like this beyond tomorrow. And that more athletes like me can compete at the highest level for England in beach volleyball.
Before that, however, there is still a chance. The brothers will have another opportunity to win a medal when they take on Rwandan pair Olivier Ntagengwa and Venuste Gatsinzi in the bronze medal match on Sunday today. Along with their opponents, they were the competition’s other big story, so desperately close to becoming Rwanda’s first Commonwealth Games medalists.