Volleyball stars Javier and Joaquin Bello came through a high-pressure encounter against Hungary at the recent CEV Youth Beach Volleyball Continental Cup Finals to emerge triumphant and secure a fifth-placed finish of major significance. The winners of the play-off were guaranteed a spot at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games and the twin brothers are now able to book their flights to Argentina for this October after prevailing as 2-0 (18-21, 20-22) victors.
Javier and Joaquin, who both receive SportsAid support through the Backing The Best programme with Sport England, have gained invaluable experience at senior level this year on the World Tour. This will stand them in good stead for the Youth Olympics, as will winning gold medal success at the Bahamas 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games, as they prepare for one of their toughest tests yet by competing against the strongest nations in the world in South America.
Here, Javier and Joaquin reflect on their Commonwealth Youth Games success, reveal the biggest challenges they face and look ahead to the Youth Olympics....
You recently finished fifth at the CEV Youth Beach Volleyball Continental Cup Finals to guarantee a spot at the Youth Olympic Games. How happy were you with your performance and the result?
Javier: “There was a lot of pressure throughout the tournament as we could not find our best game, especially in the early stages, but we managed to pull through several tie-break matches to put us in a position to qualify. The last game was a very special moment for us, it was an amazing feeling to clinch the win and put bad performances behind us.”
Joaquin: “We are of course very happy with the qualification for the Youth Olympics, which was our main goal, but also a bit disappointed that we couldn’t bring home a medal. When we lost the quarter-finals against Czech Republic, a team we had beaten in the past but who played a very good tournament, we knew we had to fight for the last European ticket to Buenos Aires, and we were over the moon after a gruelling game to take it.”
How excited are you to compete at the Youth Olympics later this year? How challenging have you found being part of the World Tour?
Javier: “We are incredibly excited and even more determined with the Youth Olympic Games coming up in just a few months, but we don’t want to let this create anxiety or nerves so we are putting in the work in in training and focusing on our preparation for now. The World Tour events we have played have really improved our game and although it was a difficult challenge at first, we are now more established as a competitive team at senior level as we managed a few wins in just our second event.”
Joaquin: “We cannot be more excited about the opportunity to take part in the Youth Olympics. The five European teams are already really strong, but if we add the hosts, Argentina, as well as the Australians and New Zealand, who we met at the Youth Commonwealth Games, it should be an awesome tournament. Last season we made our debut in the international scene at senior level and this year we started playing in the World Tour. We have participated in two events and already won several matches. In the senior competitions we’re facing new challenges playing against much more physical athletes, so this has gained us invaluable experience.”
What have been your other achievements so far this year? And what else do you have coming up aside from the Youth Olympics?
Javier: “We finished the indoor season with a bronze medal with the England team at the Northern European Championships and at club level won the Under-18s National Championship and reached the top four in the Super 8’s League. Since moving to the beach, we achieved a fifth place at the Northern European event in Denmark, won all three UK Beach Tour events we have played and managed a few wins on the World Tour.”
Joaquin: “We are leaving this week for the Under-20s European Championships in Russia, another World Tour event and then the Under-19s World Championships in China. We are really excited about this competition because England has never qualified for this event and we hope to do a really good job against the best teams in the world, as we enter the tournament as fourth overall seeds. There are also a few more World Tour events in our sights and we will continue competing in the UK Beach Tour to keep our gold medal-winning streak going.”
Winning gold must have been a special feeling at the Commonwealth Youth Games last summer! What did that mean to you? How did you find the opposition you were up against?
Joaquin: “The Commonwealth Youth Games were very special for us because it was our first gold medal in a big international competition. We had prepared very well but, in a way, everything was unknown - a different setting, teams we had never seen before, difficult weather conditions. Australia and New Zealand were both very strong opponents together with Cyprus. We feel very honoured to have taken gold at the games and they are a great memory that will always stay with us. After the success of beach volleyball in Bahamas 2017 and Gold Coast 2018, we hope Birmingham 2022 will also feature beach volleyball in their programme.”
What were the key learnings you took away from your time at the Commonwealth Youth Games? How did you find being part of a multi-sport competition?
Joaquin: “In this type of competition you have to take one match at a time, and we learnt this as we saw a few upsets from other teams in early pool play matches, something we wanted to avoid. We remained focused and took it step by step, which meant that we didn’t drop a set in the competition. I personally love multi-sport events because it allows you to see other sports and meet other athletes who share the same passion for their sport as you do. The Commonwealth Youth Games were also a great experience to learn about the other countries in the Commonwealth.”
How did you originally get into volleyball? Where do you train?
Javier: “We have grown up surrounded by volleyball. Our parents met through the sport when my father was a professional player; our cousin is also a professional player and a former world champion at under-21s level, so it was easy to be inspired from the beginning. The thrill of winning and competing and the mental aspect of performance are great, but the opportunities to travel around the world are by far the most enjoyable part of being an international beach volleyball player.”
Joaquin: “From September to February we train indoors with our club, Richmond Volleyball, and compete in the top division of the National League. From March, when it is usually still really cold, rainy and windy, we start training outdoors at the beach courts in Barn Elms. Volleyball is the second most played sport in the world and, while still not that popular in the UK, there are lots of clubs and opportunities to play, whether in the Local and National League, or socially with your friends on grass and beach tournaments.”
You are currently receiving SportsAid support and were also beneficiaries last year. How much of a difference does the support make?
Javier: “The support we receive from SportsAid makes a huge difference and without it we could not have achieved big successes. It has helped us with funding the travel to all the international competitions as well as with equipment and tournament costs. In addition to the ‘functional’ use of SportsAid’s support, having the recognition and belief in what we can achieve gives us an extra motivation and desire to perform even better.”
What do you find is your biggest challenge as an athlete?
Javier: “For me it is the fact that we need to put in more work and greater efforts to continue succeeding. We are very lucky and very grateful to have the support of SportsAid, and the strong support network from our Federation, our club and the volleyball community, but we’re also aware that without the support of our parents and big personal sacrifices we would not be able to compete at this level. The amount of work, time and effort we have been putting in is a massive - and perhaps unsustainable - challenge but also our greatest feat, as we are already beating more established volleyball countries at junior and senior level.”
Joaquin: “I personally find it very challenging to combine my academic obligations with my training and competition schedule. I’d need 30-hour days to squeeze everything in. As Javier mentioned, we are competing against players who are almost professionals in full-time training programmes with facilities where they can train all year round and attend schools and universities with enough flexibility to work around an elite athlete training and competition calendar.”
Who has been the most influential person in your careers so far? What difference have they made in your lives?
Javier: “There is no question our parents are the most influential people in our careers. Their combined efforts have translated our passion, limited talent and hard work into tangible successes and achievements, so we are grateful to have their support because without it our careers would break down immediately.”
Lastly, do you have any particular passions outside of sport?
Javier: “I’m a pretty big fan of NBA basketball and love to watch games in my spare time. I played for my school team and I have really good fun playing one-on-one against my volleyball teammates before practice. Other than that I read and I am becoming increasingly interested in sports psychology after reading a few cool books.”
Joaquin: “I don’t do much outside of studying and training, but when I have some time, I like to catch up on my favourite Netflix TV series.”
What will you do to #SupportTheNext generation of British sporting heroes? SportsAid needs your help to ensure talented athletes like Javier and Joaquin can continue receiving the backing they rely on. You can make a regular donation to the charity and have a significant impact on the country’s sporting future.