Canadians Pedlow and Schachter "the kings of top-nine"

Canadians Sam Schachter and Sam Pedlow are looking to make a big Olympic push in the Cancun hub

The decision of whether or not Sam Schachter and Sam Pedlow would travel to Doha, Qatar, two weeks ago for the season-opening four-star event was not as black and white as it might initially seem.

They’re dancing a high-wire act, The Sams. On the one hand, prior to the event, the Canadians were the No. 15 ranked team in the Olympic race, holding tight onto the final qualification spot for Tokyo. A seventeenth-place finish or better from Swiss Mirco Gerson and Adrian Heidrich in Doha would knock them down, one spot out of the coveted top-15.

On the other hand, if they left Canada, Schachter and Pedlow wouldn’t be able to come home.

Traveling, even as the COVID-19 pandemic is slowing, remains no easy feat. Tests must be taken, exceptional entry permits distributed, bubbles erected. For Canada, and particularly for those living in Toronto, as Schachter and Pedlow are, it is nearly impossible.

“We’re the most locked-down city in the world still,” Pedlow said of Toronto, home of the Canadian training centre.

They’ve still been able to train, just as the Toronto Maple Leafs (hockey) and Toronto Raptors (basketball) have been able to, but to leave the country and return is a quarantine-, hassle-filled ordeal.  

“If we travel to California [to train], then the tournament gets cancelled, we’d have to quarantine for two weeks, so we’ve been kind of trying to play this game to figure out what makes the most sense so we’re not going to be quarantining for four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks over the course of the year,” Pedlow said. “That’s why we skipped Doha because we didn’t know what was coming up after it.”

Canada's Sam Pedlow (left) and Sam Schachter

Now they know. After Doha is a three-week bubble in Cancun, Mexico, featuring back-to-back-to back four-stars, more than enough time for Pedlow and Schachter to surpass the Swiss for that fifteenth spot. But then it gets tricky again, because this is 2021, and of course it does.

Canada currently doesn’t even offer flights to Mexico or the Caribbean, or any “sun destination,” as Pedlow called it. Just to get to Cancun requires Pedlow and Schachter to make a week-long pit stop in Florida, to train with coach LT Treumann and a talented crop of young Americans. Getting back to Canada from Cancun would require another stop in the United States, a mandatory – and costly – hotel quarantine in Canada, and then another wild route to Sochi for the ensuing event.

“So,” Pedlow said, “we can’t come home.”

Prior to Sochi, they might make another stop in Florida, or perhaps arrive in Europe a few weeks early.

“But once we leave Canada,” Pedlow said, “there’s no way to come home until after the Olympics.”

Such is the unique plight of the Canadian Olympic aspirants. But the good news is this: there are enough events to play prior to the Games that Schachter and Pedlow, a new father, won’t be terribly hindered. There is Cancun, followed by Sochi, which is immediately succeeded by Ostrava. Five events in a period of less than two months.

Five events to get the monkey of ninth-place finishes off their backs.

Canada Day July 1 for Canada's Sam Schachter and Sam Pedlow

A major reason Pedlow and Schachter, a 2016 Olympian, are so high in this Olympic race is because of their consistency. That same reason is, paradoxically, also why it’s so tough for them to move up. Some teams, like the Swiss, for example, or Americans Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, are top-heavy in their finishes. With the majority of their points coming from a few big results, they’re able to easily drop, say, a 25th or a 17th. This is not the case for Pedlow and Schachter.

They’ve played 15 FIVB events -- and one NORCECA -- in this Olympic qualification period, and eight of them have been ninths.

“We are the kings of finishing top-nine,” Pedlow said, laughing. “Over the course of our partnership, I think we’ve come in ninth in over 75 percent of the tournaments we’ve played. Consistency is what’s kept us in the race.

“We’re right there and we’ve been incredibly consistent with our finishes,” Pedlow said. “We’ve had the one fourth at a four-star [in Yangzhou, China] but the rest have been consistently ninth-place finishes so we need a big event. We’re really hoping for one of those breakout performances so that’s why we’ve taken some extra time to prepare at home. We’re going to push super aggressively to try and get in that top fifteen.”

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