As Javier Bello leapt up into the air and crushed the volleyball downwards for the last time, the ball flying far out, he and his brother’s shoulders had already slumped in resignation. In the biggest match of their careers, before the 4,000 strong capacity crowd they had animated with their own excellence, they had gradually been smothered by the skill and greater experience of their opponents. They fell 15-21, 21-13, 15-7 to Canada’s Sam Schachter and Daniel Dearing in the semi-final.
Over the past 10 days in the middle of Smithfield, Javier and Joaquin Bello have made themselves the show – two young, talented and dynamic twin brothers determined to put beach volleyball on the map in this country. The pair were born in Madrid but moved to London in their childhood. At 22, they are the two-time British champions and coached by their father, a former volleyball player.
They are hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, playing in a stadium erected on a glorified building site, but the scenes have been unforgettable. The music, the dancers flitting on to the court every time the competitors step away, the breathless enthusiasm from the audience for a sport many had probably never even seen on television before this event. And particularly the spectacle; on Friday, the Bello brothers so narrowly edged past a skillful Gambian team in a ferocious, tension-filled three set match that ended on an outrageous final point, giving them an opportunity for them to play for a medal.
A day later, they blitzed through a tremendous opening set, Javier relentlessly firing point-winning spikes. Joaquin, the ice to his twin’s fire, was eternally solid, constantly salvaging points with his blocks and composure. They had the crowd in the palm of their hands, the audience exploding as they took the first set.
But the Canadian team is older, ranked higher and more experienced. They had moved through the rounds unbeaten and rapidly showed their class. As they turned the page on the first set, they were spotless, ridding themselves of mistakes as Dearing constantly rose up to make spectacular blocks. “It felt like there was no way through them at some point,” said Javier.
As they digested the loss, Javier, the more outwardly emotional of the two, buried his head in a towel. He spoke bitterly about the missed opportunity, but even through his frustration he acknowledged his hopes that this will only be the beginning. That this Commonwealth Games will allow such a low-profile sport in Great Britain gain a more permanent following.
“I’m hoping that a lot of thousands of people have seen what beach volleyball is, what it’s like,” he said. “I think that was missing in the UK – a lot of people hadn’t seen it. Everybody who has seen it for the first time is now thinking how amazing the sport is, how much of a show, a spectacle it is.
“The music, the DJ, the dancing, the entertainment. This is beach volleyball, this is how it always should be and I’m just hoping that 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 at beach volleyball.”
Before that, though, there is one more chance. The brothers will have another opportunity to take a medal as they face the Rwandan pair of Olivier Ntagengwa and Venuste Gatsinzi in the bronze medal match on Sunday. Along with their opponents, they have been the other great story in the competition, so desperately close to becoming Rwanda’s first Commonwealth Games medallists.