Pavan & Melissa: Only one goal in Tokyo

OSTRAVA - They have already been on top of the world. They are on top of the world. They are the reigning world champions, yet they are ready to conquer the world once again, this time at the Olympics. It has been a long wait since Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes qualified for Tokyo by winning gold at the 2019 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship. The Games are almost here and the two Canadian players feel the excitement rising, but manage to stay focused on their one and only goal, the Olympic gold. 

“It has taken a very long time and it’s been really challenging, but we are so excited that we are just about a month away. This season has had a lot of ups and downs. It’s been a real challenge, but we’re hoping that we’re going to reach our maximum potential there,” 34-year-old Sarah Pavan told Volleyball World on the premises of the J&T Banka Ostrava Beach Open 4-star event just after the team progressed to the quarterfinals. 

“I think the fact that we were already qualified two years ago gave us two years to work on a lot of things and try things. That was a privilege and a luxury that not a lot of teams had,” 28-year-old Melissa Humana-Paredes added. “We took that to our advantage and used these opportunities to compete against the best levels to try and get information on ourselves and on them and see what we can put into practice to bring to the Olympics. It was a good opportunity the last few tournaments to try things and get into a good rhythm.” 

Melissa also commented on another privilege she has, to play next to someone as experienced as Sarah, someone who has already played at the Olympics and someone who has learned how to deal with the pressure of high-level sports. 

“I think what Sarah does really well for me in high-pressure moments – and I imagine the Olympics will be high-pressure – is to slow me down to kind of enjoy the moment and be my joyful self,” Melissa said. “She really reminds me often to not get too frustrated with myself, to be patient with myself and just to remember why I am here and why I love doing this. There are times when I kind of get a little frustrated and she’ll be like, ‘Hey! It’s OK. Next one... Remember why we are here...’ Those are really important for me to hear and bring me back to the moment, make me enjoy what I do and I play way better when I do that.” 

While Pavan already played at the Olympics once, finishing fifth alongside Heather Bansley at Rio 2016, Tokyo 2020 will be the first Olympic appearance for Humana-Paredes. 

“I’m excited!” she said. “I actually had the privilege of going to Rio as an alternate, so I was there with Sarah and Heather helping them prepare for their games, so I kind of got a sense of the Olympics already and got to experience all the excitement and everything. So this time I am just going in to play. I know, with the coronavirus, the Olympics is not going to look the same, and we are there to do one thing and one thing only, to win the gold medal. So I am really kind of focused and narrow-minded on that.” 

The fact that Pavan and Melissa have already won the World Championships does not take away from keeping their sights on the next big goal, to win the Olympics. 

“I think our team has been really good at separating and compartmentilising different things. Yes, we are world champions, but that was its own thing, and the Olympics is something completely different,” Pavan said. “We know that we have a target on our back. 

“The women’s field is really deep and very talented, so we know that even on the World Tour we have to put together great performances every match if we are going to win. In that sense, the Olympics is no different. Nothing changes for us with our preparation or our mindset, but it’s nice to have that target on our back as it keeps us pushing to be better every day.” 

Since Pavan and Melissa teamed up after the Rio Olympics, they have managed to win five gold medals, six silvers and a bronze in the deep women’s field of the World Tour, in addition to the World Championship title in Hamburg. They are currently the number one duo in the FIVB World Ranking. So what sets their team apart? 

“At this level, everyone is very good at volleyball, but one thing that our team takes a lot of pride in is our relationship and who we are together,” Sarah said. “We’re very different people. We’re very different personalities and volleyball players, but who we are together is really, really special. We work so hard on our relationship and making our differences cohesive, and we work together so beautifully. So I think that’s a big difference-maker for us.” 

“Yes, I think Sarah nailed it,” Melissa agreed, and added, “I think the difference-maker is going to be consistency, if we are talking technically on the game, but also understanding – and I think the World Championship was a great example of that – that we don’t have to play perfectly all the time. We just need to play with heart all the time and a never-say-die attitude. I think we’re really good at doing that and, when we have that, no one can stop us. If we can play with that mentality, that’s going to be a game-changer for us in Tokyo”.