Chris McHugh and Damien Schumann bowed out of the Olympic tournament after going down to Spain 16-21, 16-21.
Desperately needing a win against the no. 13 seed to keep their Tokyo Games campaign alive, the Australians fought bravely but couldn’t overcome the Spanish pairing of Herrera and Gavira, who together boast eight Olympic Games and an Athens 2004 silver medal for Herrera.
The Spaniards’ mix of quality and experience stifled Australia’s natural game and prevented them from getting into their attacking rhythms.
Spain came out of the blocks fast, with sound court management and pinpoint accuracy seeing them jump out to an 8-3 lead. Despite some flashes, McHugh and Schumann couldn’t find their trademark consistency and couldn’t close the five-point buffer, going down 21-16. A similar start in the second saw the Australians try to chase down an early lead to no avail, bowing out of their tournament 16-21 16-21.
Emotional after seeing their Olympic campaign finish, McHugh and Schumann embraced on the court after the final point, then took several minutes on their player bench soaking up their last moments on the field of play at the Tokyo Games.
Reflecting on their experience, the pair were gutted to see their campaign come to an end but proud of their Olympic journey.
“There’s a lot of mixed emotions at the moment, because we’re so happy that we qualified for the Olympics and put our best out there, but it’s always disappointing when you lose,” Schumann said.
“You can look back and analyse each point and the things we did, but to Spain’s credit, they started out pretty well and they put a lot of service pressure on us.
“They are a very experienced team and we’ve had some good games with them over the years. At this level it’s the little things, a couple of serves weren’t quite there and then we just dropped one or two points, then it’s hard to catch up.
“We’re so proud to be the first Australian men’s team back at the Olympics in beach volleyball since 2008 – it’s a massive honour because it’s very difficult to make the Olympics in beach volleyball. You’ve got to be in the top 15 in the world and if you’re not there’s just one spot up for grabs per continent.
“In the last couple of Olympics, we’ve come close as a country to making that. For us to finally win that Continental Cup and get back into the Olympics is really, really special. It’s a massive honour to be here alongside [women’s team] Mariafe and Taliqua, and now we will support them and wish them all the best.”
McHugh also took the time to reflect on their amazing team achievements, having been the first athletes to represent Australia in men’s beach volleyball at the Olympics in 13 years.
“We’re very proud of our team,” McHugh said. “It’s been a really long journey to get to this point. We couldn’t have done it without our families and our friends back home and we hope we made everyone proud.”
“It’s also been a really special time in the village with the Australian team. We were able to hang out with everybody, we have a really close knit group and we’ve been celebrating everybody’s successes. I’m sure that everybody will look back at these Games as something special and something really unique.
McHugh also looked to the next generation, highlighting the opportunity to grow beach volleyball and other Olympic sports in Australia in the coming decade.
“Volleyball is the second biggest participation sport in the world, but in Australia you might not know it. We have the world’s best beaches too. If we can get more kids playing and really investing in the grassroots it will give so many great opportunities.
“With Brisbane 2032 coming it’s fantastic and I think we’ll see that investment come – but it’s not just about better sporting outcomes, but the incredible role models Olympic sport can bring. Look at Jess Fox, look at so many people on this Australian Olympic team that are such high quality human beings. Australia loves the Olympics and I’d love to see Australia keep showcasing incredible people like that.”
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