Pavan, Humana-Paredes poised to vault Canada into Olympic beach volleyball contention
Everything you should know for the Tokyo 2020 men's and women's tournaments
Canada hasn't won a beach volleyball medal since 1996, when the sport made its Olympic debut.
But 2019 world champions Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes are poised to end that drought at Tokyo 2020.
Here's everything you should know about beach volleyball at the Olympics:
Twenty-four teams are divided into six pools of four. The top two teams from each pool, plus the two best third-place teams, advance directly to the single-elimination round of 16. The remaining third-place teams play in the "lucky loser" round to determine the final two spots in the knockout round.
Each match is best of three sets, with the first two played up to 21 points and the final set up to 15. All sets must be won by at least two points.
Pavan and Humana-Paredes, ranked second worldwide, will be joined by the No. 17 duo of Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson in Tokyo. No Canadian men qualified for the Olympics.
Pavan and Bansley competed together at the Rio Olympics in 2016, going undefeated in group play before falling in their first knockout match against the world No. 1 team.
However, they split as a duo immediately after, citing their lack of victories over their four-year run together.
Now back at the Olympics but with new partners, Pavan appears to have won the breakup.
WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes headed for history:
She and Humana-Paredes notched a pair of second-place finishes over seven 2021 tournaments, with a third and two fourths as well. At the 2019 worlds, the duo dropped just two sets over five elimination matches en route to a gold medal and Olympic berth.
Bansley and Wilkerson own three fifth-place finishes in their last six tournaments, and could be outside shots to reach the podium.
But Pavan, of Kitchener, Ont., and Toronto's Humana-Paredes were projected in April by Gracenote, a data company which typically gives a good overview of favourites, to win one of Canada's four gold medals in Tokyo.
Though their run of play hasn't been dominant since that projection, the pair nearly swept through its most recent tournament, failing to drop a set until a semifinal loss before battling back for bronze.
WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes snag bronze in Switzerland:
At six-foot-five, the 34-year-old Pavan is a dominant net presence, a lefty that doubles as one of the leading blockers in the world.
Humana-Paredes, 28, prefers to play at the back, setting Pavan up for smashes and covering lots of ground.
Off the court, Humana-Paredes adds an element of lightheartedness to Pavan's competitiveness. Over five years together, Pavan says her younger partner has helped her break out of her shell — to the point where the two became vloggers.
In Tokyo, Pavan will lean on Humana-Paredes to help her get over that Olympic hump and climb the podium.
International athletes to watch
It was Brazil's top-ranked duo of Agatha and Duda that downed Pavan and Humana-Paredes at their latest tournament, and qualify as their biggest threats in Tokyo.
Brazil is traditionally a beach volleyball power, leading all countries with 13 medals over 12 men's and women's Olympic tournaments.
The U.S. isn't far behind, having won at least one beach volleyball medal in every Olympics since 1996. But one American streak is already ending in Tokyo, as for the first time ever, Kerri Walsh Jennings will not compete.
Walsh Jennings won gold with Misty May-Treanor in 2004, 2008 and 2012 before taking 2016 bronze with April Ross, who now teams with Alex Klineman. Klineman, 31, only started playing beach volleyball full-time in 2017.
Ross and Klineman, ranked third, beat Pavan and Humana-Paredes in the final of a March tournament and own four-straight top-five finishes.
The men's tournament provides a shakeup from beach volleyball's typical pecking order, as none of the top three teams hail from Brazil or the U.S.
Norway's Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, ranked first, have won six of their last 10 tournaments dating back to 2019. However, they may not be in top form riding a three-tournament streak of missed podiums.
Qatar's Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan are ranked second, having reached the final in six of their eight 2021 tournaments. Russia's Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy are third.
- Only five countries have won medals in the women's tournament: Brazil, U.S., Australia, China, Germany. Outside of that quintet, only Japan has so much as reached the semifinals.
- Typical competitions include 32 teams played over around five days. At the Olympics it's 24 teams and 15 days. More rest and fewer teams could lead to fewer upsets.
- Brazil's Larissa França owns the most victories in Olympic women's beach volleyball history, but only a single bronze medal to show for it.
- July 24: Men's and women's tournaments begin
- Aug 1: Knockout stages begin
- Aug 6: Women's final and bronze-medal match
- Aug 7: Men's final and bronze-medal match
- A previous version of this story stated that the top two teams from each pool, plus four wild cards, advance to the single-elimination round of 16. The story has been updated to clarify that the top two teams from each pool, plus the two best third-place teams, advance directly to the knockout round, while the remaining third-place teams face each other to determine the final two knockout spots.Jul 29, 2021 4:14 PM ET