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Sarah Pavan of Canada and Melissa Humana-Paredes of Canada await the referee's review of the final point at Shiokaze Park, Tokyo on July 24, 2021.

JOHN SIBLEY/Reuters

Melissa Humana-Paredes waved to the crowd at Shiokaze Park stadium on Saturday, celebrating her and partner Sarah Pavan’s first win at the Tokyo Olympics.

If pressed, Humana-Paredes could probably name everyone she waved to in the stands, as there were only a dozen people watching the beach volleyball tournaments.

“There was our support staff, our mission staff for Team Canada, and they’ve all been very supportive,” said Humana-Paredes. “Even just seeing a couple of friendly faces makes a world of difference. I was really just soaking in that moment.”

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Pavan and Humana-Paredes defeated the Dutch duo of Katja Stam and Raisa Schoon 2-0 in the first day of women’s beach volleyball at the Tokyo Olympics. The Canadians won their sets 21-16, 21-14.

Different women, devastating beach duo; Pavan, Humana-Paredes take on Tokyo

Beach volleyball threads through Olympian Melissa Humana-Paredes’ bond with father

Tokyo is in a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning no spectators are allowed in Olympic venues. Only people within the Olympic “bubble” can enter venues, with media forced to keep more than two metres away during interviews.

“’'I think we can all agree there’s something missing,” Pavan said to reporters over the hum of cicadas at an outdoor interviewing space.

“We thrive in a full stadium with all that energy, but I think the strength of our team is that we are able to manufacture energy as well, when we need to.”

Pavan and Humana-Paredes have been dominant since they first partnered together five years ago. They’ve reached the finals at 14 international events and won seven, including the 2019 world title and a 2018 Commonwealth Games gold.

That world title qualified Pavan and Humana-Paredes for the Tokyo Olympics two years ago, then the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the Games by a year.

“We have been waiting for this moment for so long,” said Pavan. “Last year was a roller-coaster of emotion. To know that we had earned our berth so early and then to have it put on pause was heartbreaking.

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“But we stayed disciplined and motivated and accountable – not only to each other, but to our federation and to our sport and everyone who’s been supporting us.”

Their opponents from the Netherlands had a much shorter lead-up to the Olympics, qualifying for the Tokyo Games last month. Stam said she wasn’t intimidated by the Canadians’ impressive resume, because she and Schoon had come close to beating them in three previous matchups.

“I think they (intimidated us) in the beginning, but now that we’ve played them in three and now four games and we were so close, we know we can do this,” said Schoon. “It doesn’t matter that they’re world champions.”

After a slow start that saw the Canadians trailing 5-2 in the opening set, the pair dug deep for a 7-1 run.

A block-touch challenge by the Netherlands found that Pavan had grazed the ball on a deflected return, tying it 9-9 before the Canadians again turned up the heat for a first set win.

Humana-Paredes said she was “shaking like a leaf” with nerves waiting in the tunnel to come out on to the court.

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“I still get nervous before almost every game that we play,” said Humana-Paredes. “These are big moments and you’re on stage and you just want to make sure that all the work you put in, all the sacrifices you made, that it shows through.”

A sharp spike by Humana-Paredes off the outstretched hand of a diving Schoon gave Canada a 10-9 lead in the second set.

It appeared as though the team from the Netherlands had stayed alive when a Pavan shot had gone out of bounds on what could have been the match-winner.

However, an official review found that Stam had touched the ball on a block, sending it out and clinching the win for Canada.

Pavan and Humana-Paredes will play Germany’s Julia Sude and Karla Borger on Monday.

Heather Bansley of London, Ont., and Brandie Wilkerson of Toronto faced China’s Fan Wang and Xinyi Xia in Saturday’s later matchup.

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Canada didn’t qualify a duo on the men’s side of the beach volleyball event.

Earlier Saturday, a women’s team from the Czech Republic forfeited its match to Japan after player Marketa Slukova tested positive for COVID-19.

The Czech team said Slukova has entered a quarantine hotel, where two other athletes and two other coaches in its national delegation are staying.

– With files from The Associated Press.

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