"We're confident": the Bellos in Buenos Aires
5th October 2018
They often say twins are inseparable, but the Bello brothers, Javier and Joaquin push that adage to the extreme. Day in, day out, the brothers spend most of their waking hours together. Training twice a day, competing around the world, and were even in the same lessons at school.
The Hounslow based pair started playing beach volleyball at the age of six and are shining lights of English volleyball. Coached by dad Luis, the 18 year old twins already have a Youth Commonwealth gold medal for England to their name after victory in the Bahamas in 2017.
This Saturday sees the start of the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, the third staging of the event, which gives hot prospects the chance to shine on the global stage.
It has been the springboard for many an athlete’s career, including gold for double Olympic taekwondo champion Jade Jones in 2010 and four medals for European champion gymnast Ellie Downie in the 2014 games. This year will see Team GB sending 42 athletes to Argentina to compete in 17 sports across the competition.
Beach volleyball is not a sport where Team GB has historically flourished. Since its introduction as an official Olympic event in 1996, a British team, male or female, has only competed three times. Once in the inaugural female event in Atlanta, and one in both events when Britain played hosts in 2012.
But the young twins have the potential to rise the FIVB (Federation Internationale de Volleyball) beach volleyball rankings and make themselves a presence on the world game. Having already competed, and won, at senior level events this year, the feeling before flying to Argentina is positive:
“We are very confident, we have done a lot of training and lot of preparation” says Joaquin, as they train on a cold, windy Monday evening in Barnes. He's not lying.
The boys trained here every day, often twice, while juggling studies for their A levels en route to Buenos Aires. Spending their evenings analysing future opponents.
Not that their non-stop travelling and competing affected their academic results. Both brothers secured entry to university this summer, with Joaquin studying medicine at Imperial College London.
Joaquin says the biggest factor in this is their father and coach, Luis. A former volleyball player, Luis rarely misses a session with the boys while working as a PE teacher at the same time. He was the one who got them playing at six-years old.
“He is the reason we are who we are," says Joaquin "He is here every single day, every evening training with us. He is the reason we have achieved what we have and he is the reason we are going to the Youth Olympics.”
With UK Sport not offering any funding to the British Volleyball Federation in the build up to Tokyo 2020, the chances for funding for 2024 - in which they hope to compete - are also slim. Funding wise, the boys very much have to be self-sustainable.
“A lot of the tournaments we go to we have to pay for ourselves, we have to pay to hire these courts everyday” says Javier, “Funding is very difficult for our sport in this country. We’re doing the best we can to find sponsors…to compete against countries that have full time programmes.”
With the sort of pragmatism that belies their years, there is an acceptance from them both about the reality of funding in Britain where medals are the order of the day: “It’s much easier to fund individuals, rather than a team sport” continues Joaquin, “Take swimming, for example, you can have one centre and a number of athletes can go there. With a team, it is not as easy”.
They aren’t identical, in their looks or demeanour - Javier the more relaxed of the two, Joaquin the more assertive - but in many ways, the perfect match on court:
“I love playing with my brother, we have a great connection on court” starts Javier, “Off court maybe not so good!” he says, before releasing a chuckle. “We know where each other are going to be on court at all times and that’s really helpful when you’re playing in high pressure situations.”
As high pressure situations go, they don’t come much bigger than the next couple of weeks for these two, not that Javier minds. “You have to acknowledge the pressure," he says. ‘If you don’t it’ll only affect your game”.
The brothers speak of the difficulty transitioning from beach to indoor volleyball when climate necessitates, they will always prefer the game on the sand.
Argentina awaits, a country famous for the Tango; a routine incessantly practised by two people, allowing for a flawless rendition once performed. Sound familiar?
Credit: Feature written by Adam LeRoux, originally for the Sports Gazette. Original story.