Josh Binstock, Sam Schachter win final Canadian Olympic beach volleyball spot
Duo defeated fellow Canadians in do-or-die match in North Bay, Ont.
Rob Snoek for CBC Sports
The downtown beach volleyball venue in North Bay, Ont., was packed to watch a showdown with an Olympic prize awaiting the victors.
Josh Binstock, 35, and his 26-year-old teammate Sam Schachter, both from Richmond Hill, Ont., are the final two volleyball athletes to win an Olympic berth for Canada.
The duo needed nerves of steel to fight back from a one-set deficit and from a three-point disadvantage in the final set to beat the duo of Sam Pedlow (Barrie, Ont.) and Grant O'Gorman (Scarborough,Ont.) to claim the fourth and final beach volleyball team spot at the Rio Olympics.
"We're ecstatic for sure. We have been in that situation before where we've been down, and also have been in other situation being up and lost it, so we know anything can happen," Binstock, who played in the 2012 London Olympics, said.
"Those guys [Pedlow and O'Gorman] are a great team, so if you don't stay sharp, momentum can swing, so we just stayed poised and optimistic and good things happened."
It was a difficult journey for all four players to reach this winner-take-all match on the shores of Lake Nipissing. Missing out on qualification through the initial stage meant Canada's hopes rested in the Continental Qualifying tournament route.
Teammates become opponents
The four players came together to form a Davis Cup-style team and came within one win of qualifying at a tournament in Mexico in June. The Canadian group then went undefeated earlier this month in Sochi, Russia, at the last chance qualifier to earn Canada an Olympic berth. But Volleyball Canada had already decided that a one-match showdown would be needed to determine which team would be Canada's entry.
Pedlow and O'Gorman went undefeated in 12 games in the Sochi tournament and it looked like they might ride that momentum to Rio with a 22-20 win in the opening set of the best-of-three match. The second set was tied 14-14 when Binstock and his partner Schachter rattled off six of the next seven points, then held on for a 21-17 win.
That forced a third set with a score to 15 points. Again, Pedlow and O'Gorman had the upper hand leading 11-8 and just four points shy of victory.
"We didn't panic," Schachter said. "We knew we'd been there before, even though we kind of gave up that lead. We knew we had the stuff to beat those guys."
He was right. Binstock and Schachter scored seven of the next eight to win the set 15-12 and the match 2-1.
Schachter seemed overwhelmed afterwards. "It means everything. I've been working my entire life towards this and I'm in disbelief still."
Ed Drakich, Volleyball Canada's beach volleyball high performance director, defended Canada's method of determining the final spot.
"When you play at the Olympics the gold medal final is one match. If you play a playoff game it's one match. Pool play games are one match. And we feel that the team that can handle this environment and perform on demand like this is probably your team that's going to handle your Olympic pressure."
Binstock and Schachter will now have the chance to test Drakich's theory. They'll be slotted into Group A in in Rio. Among their foes in the group stage will be reigning world champions Alison Cerutti and Bruno Oscar Schmidt of Brazil.
Canada, the United States, Brazil, and the Netherlands are the only four countries to have qualified four teams for Rio.
On the women's side, Canada will be represented by the fifth-ranked team on this year's FIVB World Beach tour, Sarah Pavan (Kitchener, Ont.) and Heather Bansley (London, Ont.), and Jamie Broder (Victoria) and her partner Kristina Valjus (Toronto) who became the first Canadian team to win on the world tour in the 2015 season.