The clock had not yet struck midnight before Josh Binstock and Sam Schachter finally – barely – secured Canada’s last entry in the Olympic beach volleyball competition.
They didn’t necessarily want to wait until the last minute to punch their tickets to Rio, but it came down to the final few points in a come-from-behind win in the third set of a nail-biting match before they did.
Playing Sam Pedlow and Grant O’Gorman July 16 in North Bay, Ont., Binstock and Schachter lost the first set 22-20 before bouncing back to take the next two, 21-17 and 15-12.
At one point in the third and deciding set, they trailed 11-8, but went on a run, scoring seven points to their opponents’ one to clinch the victory.
“It was just an unbelievable experience,” said Schachter, 26. “To come back and win made it especially sweet.”
The match, said Binstock, “was our season in a nutshell, lots of ups and downs. It doesn’t always go our way.”
Canada’s men’s team earned a second spot for the Olympics, which run from Aug. 5 to 21, at a qualifier in Sochi, Russia, last month. The North Bay match was to determine which second team Canada would sent to Rio.
Binstock, 35, is a veteran of the London Games, where he was partnered with Martin Reader. For Schachter, this will mark his first trip to the Olympics.
Last time around, Binstock admits to feeling happy just to get to the big stage, coupled with the “hope” he and Reader could win a medal. They finished 17th.
Reader retired after the London Olympics, and Binstock tagged Schachter as his partner soon after.
The match, if not made in heaven, certainly got the guys onto plenty of medal podiums. The two were national champions in 2014, and that same year, they won a gold medal at the Parana Open, an FIVB (international volleyball federation) World Tour event. In 2015, their ninth-place finish at the FIVB World Championship made them Canada’s top-ranked men’s team.
Last summer, at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, the pair finished eighth, when a back injury suffered by Schachter prevented them from competing in the relegation round and finishing higher.
Binstock and Schachter are heading to Rio with the expectation that the podium is well within reach.
“We truly and genuinely believe we have a shot at a medal,” Binstock said last month from Las Vegas, where he went to “decompress.”
After all, he said, he and Schachter have played many medallists in various international competitions over the past years and beaten many of them, including top Brazilian, Dutch and American teams.
Binstock, who stands six feet, five inches tall, about the same as Schachter, believes their mental toughness, optimism and ability to ride out the lows of a contest will stand them in good stead in Rio. It isn’t unusual for teams to let adversity wear them down, but he and Schachter have developed a knack for not letting the disappointments of a match bring them too low while still retaining their natural aggressiveness and energy, he said.
That approach played out in the final contest in North Bay. “The fact we were able to stay optimistic, stay positive and have a good result makes it more enjoyable,” he added.
Schachter credits Binstock for helping him in those tough situations. “Josh is the veteran guy who taught me to manage my emotions,” he said.
Referring to the North Bay event, Schachter said “we’ve been in that situation before, where we lose the first set.
“Given the magnitude of the game, it’s easy to hit the panic button and give up points.” But under Binstock’s influence, he’s learned not to panic or be afraid to make a mistake and give up points. “That helped me push through,” he said.
Schachter believes that attitude will help them in Rio.
“I’m confident we’ll manage to win if we manage our emotions,” he said. “There’s so much parity in the men’s game. Anybody can beat anybody in a given game.”
Schachter was only able to watch the last Olympics from afar, as he fell short of making the Canadian team. When he teamed with Binstock in 2013, the team made a name for itself as one of the top duos in the world.
The two also teamed up to bolster a strong Canadian contingent at the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel, albeit in the indoor volleyball competition. Team Canada won a silver medal, eventually losing to the host Israelis, said Binstock, who also served as Maccabi Canada’s flag bearer.
Binstock said that experience also taught him to take with a grain of salt media reports that can paint a host nation in a negative light. Some teams and delegations pulled out of the Maccabiah Games because of news reports about the security situation, though he never experienced any problems. Likewise, he’s not expecting anything untoward in Rio, despite reports of some athletes pulling out and fear over the Zika virus, crime and pollution, he said.
In fact, he and Schachter have been to Rio several times this year, spending a few weeks there early in the winter for other competitions.
“There’s no [way] I would consider pulling out of an opportunity like this. No chance,” said Schachter.
Especially after their 11th-hour heroics got them there in the first place.
Meanwhile, they’re not the only ones kvelling at the prospect of competing on the world’s premier stage.
“We are so excited to share this experience. He has worked so hard to achieve his goals with the support of his entire family, friends and supporters throughout his journey,” said Howard Binstock, Josh’s father.
“I am incredibly happy for Sam, because he worked so hard for this, and it meant so much to him. I’m also relieved for him that this process is over, because I know how mentally and physically gruelling the season has been for both him and Josh. I am in awe of their composure and mental strength in performing so well under intense pressure and in the face of such strong opposition,” said Jon Schachter, Sam’s dad.
“My wife Doris, my eldest son Nathan and I will be going to Rio to support the boys, and feel incredibly fortunate to have ringside seats to watch Sam fulfil his dream.” n