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Joaquin & Javier Bello: The beach volleyball brothers aiming for Youth Olympic gold in Buenos Aires

They often say twins are inseparable, but the Bello brothers push that adage to the extreme. Day in, day out, the brothers spend most of their waking hours together. Training twice a day and competing around the world, they were even in the same lessons at school.

The Hounslow-based pair started playing beach volleyball at the age of six in their native Madrid, before moving to London eight years ago. Coached by dad Luis, the 18-year-old twins already have a Youth Commonwealth gold medal 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 send 42 athletes to Argentina to compete in 17 sports across the competition. 

Beach volleyball is not one, however, where Team GB have 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 host in 2012. 

But the young twins have the potential to scale the FIVB (Federation Internationale de Volleyball) beach volleyball rankings and turn themselves into a presence on the world stage. 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 competition 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 in their native Spain, 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. 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,” Javier told the Sports Gazette. “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 of 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” Joaquin continues. “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, neither in their looks nor 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” Javier said of his brother. “Off court maybe not so good!” he said amid laughter. “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. 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, but they will always prefer the game on the sand. With the birth of the UK Beach Tour this year, which comprises numerous events up and down the UK, beach volleyball is making headway on becoming more popular in Britain. To follow it up with success at the Youth Olympics could well be the catalyst the sport needs.

Argentina awaits, a country famous for the Tango; a routine incessantly practised by two people, allowing for a flawless rendition once performed. Sound familiar?   

Photographs/ Steve Smith/sandsphotos.co.uk  

Adam Le Roux
Non-league fanatic. Parkrun enthusiast. Adam is a graduate of the University of Leeds, where he studied Geography BSc. He soon turned from writing about soil to Kevin Doyle when he became Sports Editor at the university’s newspaper, The Gryphon. A Plymouth Argyle fan, Adam contracted a bad strain of Pilgrimitis from a very young age. Symptoms include an insatiable love of long away trips and cravings for pasties. A big lover of the non-league game, the jovial ginger can be seen at grounds from Aldershot to Yaxley and everywhere in between. Not just a man with a keyboard, Adam is keen to roll his sleeves up and get stuck in with all manner of sporting activities. Real tennis? He’s there! Ultimate frisbee? All over it. Sport is fun. Sport is inclusive. Sport is about making your own story. Got a challenge for Adam? @adamleroux22
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