Canada's Pavan, Humana-Paredes eliminated in Olympic beach volleyball quarter-finals
Fellow Canadians Bansley, Wilkerson also bounced in quarters
What started out as a potentially magical day for Canadian women's beach volleyball quickly became a nightmare at Tokyo's Shiokaze Park
With a Canadian team playing in both quarter-finals tonight, a best-case scenario could have seen an all red and white semifinal. At the very least, it was thought at least one team would have advanced.
Both Canadian pairs lost their quarter-final matches, including the defending world champions, Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, who, coming into tonight, hadn't dropped a set during this Olympic tournament.
On a warm but comfortable evening, with a slight breeze flapping the flags that ring the stadium, the pair never looked comfortable on the Tokyo sand. It seemed like the Australian duo of Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho del Solar had the Canadians on their heels from the start.
"They showed up and we did not play to the level that we know we can play to," Humana-Paredes said.
"We were always kind of playing catchup, whereas they were on the offensive from the service line and kept us back. That was the difference," added Pavan, her eyes welling up with tears.
The pair still seemed to be in a state of shock when they met with reporters about 15 minutes after their stunning defeat.
They had been a force during this tournament, rolling over opponents and were never really challenged.
WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes upset in quarter-finals:
That changed when the Australians rolled to a first set victory, making Pavan and Humana-Paredes play from behind.
After battling back to eke out a second-set win, they never led in the third and deciding set.
"I think it will take weeks, months maybe to make sense of it," Humana-Paredes said, her voice trailing off.
The 28-year-old Torontonian said her and Pavan felt well prepared and were feeling confident they would be playing for a medal later this week.
"It just didn't show up on the court and I don't know why," she added.
WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes discuss heartbreaking loss:
Fellow Canadians also bounced in quarters
Before Pavan and Humana-Paredes took the court, Canada's other pair in this tournament, Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson, played in the night's other quarter-final against Latvia.
After dropping the first set to Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka, they rallied to tie the match, but the Canadians couldn't overcome a number of unforced errors in the deciding third set, losing to 2-1, also ending their Olympic competition.
WATCH | Bansley, Wilkerson fall in quarters:
"It stings, hurts. We know we have what it takes, so to not have it manifest on the courts is tough," Wilkerson said.
"Right now it hurts a lot. I am disappointed in my performance today," added Bansley, who was partnered with Pavan at the Rio Olympics.
With fans prevented from attending these Olympics, there has been a lot of focus on the empty stadiums athletes have encountered in Tokyo.
Nowhere has the lack of fans been felt more than at beach volleyball, a sport that usually has a party-like atmosphere, with players feeding off an energetic crowd that usually would closely ring the court.
Instead, this 12,000-seat venue, nestled up against Tokyo Bay, is completely silent, except with only the venue DJ pumping tunes, gamely trying to create some kind of atmosphere.
"Definitely that was the biggest thing from our first match on, stepping on the court to an empty stadium," Bansley said. "We love playing in front of a crowd and love that energy; even if they are not cheering for you, you still feel it. We missed that."
Now, like the many athletes who don't climb a podium here in Tokyo, both of these teams will head home, wondering how a night that began with so much promise instead ended with so much disappointment.