It’s fairly common for players competing on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour to eventually cross paths with a former partner who’s now part of an opposing team. When Ben Saxton and Chaim Schalk played each other on Friday, during the third 4-star event of the Cancun Hub, however, it was much more than just a regular meeting between players who once shared the same side of the court.
Saxton and Schalk built a fantastic history together between 2013 and 2017, winning five medals for Canada in 55 World Tour tournaments and were one of the two teams that represented the country at the Rio 2016 Olympics, in which they finished ninth.
Since the start of 2020, they have become opponents but also players who represent different countries as the 35-year-old Schalk switched federations and started playing for the United States, the country where his mother was born and where he has lived for the last few years.
When Schalk decided to make the move, he knew that a meeting between the two was inevitable and it happened for the first time in the Round of 24 of the third tournament in Cancun.
“I saw the draw a couple of hours before the match,” Schalk said. “When I saw him at the warm-up court I said ‘Yeah, it was bound to happen at some point, we might as well get it out of the way now’ and we joked about it. I have nothing but great respect for him. He’s a great player, a super nice guy and he’ll always be a really good friend.”
Schalk and his current partner Theo Brunner left the court with the advantage as they defeated Saxton and teammate Grant O’Gorman to move on to the Round of 16, but the match was special for the two former partners.
“Chaim and I are still close,” said the 32-year-old Saxton, who is nicknamed ‘Big Easy’. “When I go to California for practice, I stay at his place sometimes. We get together and practise together when we’re at the same place and there’s still a very good relationship between the two of us and he’s a very good friend. It was a good competitive match, but they were on top of us today.”
The match brought a lot of different feelings to both players. Even though they showed the great respect they have for each other, they also wanted to win, which brought some fire to the encounter.
The deep knowledge they have about each was also evident at moments, but Schalk was just happy he managed to win the first of what is probably several battles against his former partner.
“There was a lot of intensity,” Schalk analysed. “They know what I like to do, I know what they like to do and it’s like a game of chess. It was especially different because it was my first time on the World Tour playing against Canada as an American. I had a couple of different things that I managed to get out of the way and I’m really glad that we got the win, but it’s always going to be a battle against them.”
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Cancun Hub - 3rd event
Cancun Hub - 3rd event - Match schedule
Provisional Olympic ranking - Men
Provisional Olympic ranking - Women
FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour
Olympic Games Tokyo 2020