As the clock ticks down to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, Australian beach volleyball duo Paul Burnett and Chris McHugh are raring to go.
Fresh off the FIVB Beach Pro Tour in Morocco, where they finished fourth, the pair have now turned their full attention to the Commonwealth Games competition starting on 30 July (AEST).
Placed in Pool B alongside Rwanda, South Africa and the Maldives, the Aussie duo aren’t getting too far ahead of themselves as they look to go deep into the tournament.
“For us it’s focussing on ourselves, focussing on our game and let the result take care of itself,” said McHugh.
“We don’t know a lot about the teams in our pool but the standard of beach volleyball has grown and that’s no different from Commonwealth nations.
“The sport has come along in leaps and bounds over the last four years so we have to be prepared for anything and the great unknown is we haven’t seen a lot of these teams so we have to prepare the best we can and bring our A-game,” he said.
A lot has also changed for McHugh since he made history with Damien Schumann in the Gold Coast in 2018 by winning gold in the first ever beach volleyball event at the Commonwealth Games.
“Life’s done a 180 on me,” McHugh said.
“Kids are a great leveller…it’s probably chilled me out a fair bit but also gave me a great perspective on life and volleyball and how much of a privilege it is to play beach volleyball and represent your country.”
Another change was the retirement of Schumann in late 2021, which saw McHugh team up with young gun Burnett.
Coming together for the first time at the 2021 Asian Beach Volleyball Championship, it didn’t take long for the pair to find success, winning the tournament after downing Tokyo 2020 bronze medallists and world number one team Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan of Qatar in the semifinals.
Since then, they’ve gone on to win gold on the Australian Beach Volleyball Tour along with a string of strong finishes on the FIVB Beach Pro Tour including a second place at the Kusadasi Challenge.
Burnett, who will be making his Commonwealth Games debut, can’t wait to step out onto the court at Smithfield – the beach volleyball venue for Birmingham 2022.
“It’s been a goal of mine for many years so now that it’s starting to get close it’s becoming more real,” Burnett said.
“One of the main reasons I play beach volleyball is the opportunity to represent Australia and to do it as a multi-sport event on such a big stage is pretty surreal.
“I’m not quite sure what it will feel like when I finally get out there but it will be a pretty special week and a half,” he added.
While McHugh will come into Birmingham as the reigning men’s beach volleyball champion, he doesn’t see the pressure to replicate the results from Gold Coast 2018.
Instead, the Pambula-born player sees it as an opportunity to continue growing his partnership with Burnett, which has only been eight months in the making.
“I don’t think there’s any extra pressure for me coming from the Gold Coast, I think it’s more about the new team, new challenge and taking that head on,” McHugh said.
“I think no matter what competition you’re playing in you want to win, it’s why we play.
“We’ve had some solid results so far and we’re looking to go deep in every tournament that we play so the Commonwealth Games is just another opportunity for us to put our best out there and hopefully come away with a medal.”
The pair pride themselves on bringing a very distinctive style to the sand, using their athleticism, speed and height to their advantage.
Fans can also expect Burnett and McHugh to bring a lot of energy to the court and push the game as far as they can.
They’ll also have a great legion of fans not just back in Australia but in Birmingham as well with Paul’s parents and his best mates set to be in the stands cheering the team on.
“They’re [friends] travelling through Europe so they’re going come over. It will be nice to have a solid support crew over there to cheer us along from the stands,” he said.
For those of us not travelling to England for the Commonwealth Games, Channel 7 will show every game live through their 7Plus app (click here for more).
It’s an opportunity to showcase the sport to a wider Australian audience, one both McHugh and Burnett welcome with open arms.
“Being able to play and have Australian fans watch live is something that is unique and doesn’t always happen for us,” McHugh explained.
“For it to be open and accessible to everybody is exciting for us to show how we play and how we represent Australia on the beach volleyball court,” he added.
“It’s exciting to give more friends and family the ability to watch and support from home,” Burnett said.
“It’s an opportunity to try to grow the sport more in Australia and attract more interest to get more players.
“It’s a great game and when people try it they often fall in love,” he said.
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