2018-04-12 09:30:00 CET
New Zealand brothers Ben and Sam O’Dea explain their sibling story
This week, International Siblings Day was celebrated in some parts of the world. At the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, it was celebration time for Ben and Sam O’Dea as the brothers made the short journey home back to New Zealand with a bronze medal.
Back on the World Tour together – the All Blacks narrowly missed out on a medal in Aalsmeer in Holland earlier this season – Ben and Sam are yet to feature on the Beach Volleyball Major Series. But, given their performances on the sand in Australia this week, it can’t be too long before the siblings are wowing more packed crowds around the world.
Brother and sister partnerships are a few and far between in the wonderful world of beach volleyball. The USA’s Trevor and Taylor Crabb tried it, but soon realized it was better to go their own separate ways at the end of the 2016 season.
That’s not to say there aren’t cases that it doesn’t work. Yet to be seen on the World Tour, bearded American bros Madison and Riley McKibbin are enjoying life on the sand together, while Austrian sisters Steffi and Doris Schwaiger proved siblings could succeed following a string of medals, including the European title in 2013.
Every athlete will tell you there are pros and cons of every partnership. Brothers Ben and Sam are no different. In fact, it’s their older brother, Edwin, the pair thank for giving them the beach volleyball bug. Also a player, Edwin partnered Sam in one World Tour event in Norway back in 2008.
After beginning as partners, Ben and Sam took break from the beach, but now the O’Deas from Tauranga have come full circle. Now reunited, they have ambitions of sticking together with the goal of reaching Tokyo in 2020.
“We played together from when we were 17 and 18 until we were into our early 20s,” younger brother Ben, 25, explains. “We then had a bit of a break. We kind of needed it being brothers. It can be difficult playing together sometimes. I think we always knew it would be a partnership that would get back together eventually. With the Commonwealth Games, and the Tokyo Olympics on the horizon, we felt it was time to start playing together.”
The reunion wasn’t quite their own idea, however, admits Sam, the older of the two at 27.
“Countless people asked us when we were going to start up again,” says the 6ft 6in blocker. “Who decided? Probably our friends and fans. They were always asking us, rather than us thinking that could be a direction for ourselves. It was kind of an unspoken conversation that we would after we split. I think since then we’ve both matured a bit.”
Ironically, the pair are trained by two-time European champ Markus Dieckmann, who also played on the World Tour with his brother, Christoph.
And it’s the brotherly love that is now the driving force behind Ben and Sam’s desire to put pride back in beach volleyball in New Zealand.
“We complement each other well I think,” says Sam. “We’re quite balanced. Ben is super stubborn which is really good in volleyball – he’ll go for absolutely everything and he wants to take the team on his shoulders which sometimes makes it easy for me. I have to be the sidekick and help him out.
“Obviously one of the drawbacks is the fact is he my brother, because it can get too much. But the best thing about that is because we’re family we soon put it behind us and get over things pretty quick.”
Ben agrees. “I do play with a lot of emotion and place a lot of expectation on myself,” he says. “Sam complements that side of me – he’s cool, calm and collected in all aspects, on and off the court. But we’re brothers, we’re good friends.
“It’s pretty special to share the court with your brother, especially on occasions like this.”
Much like their relationship, the week of competition at Coolangatta Beach has been a rollercoaster of emotion. The duo lost the first set in two of their first three matches on the Gold Coast before going onto take the bronze medal by beating England’s Chris Gregory and Jake Sheaf.
“It’s a special moment,” said Ben. “Our coach has always emphasized it’s the journey not the destination. It’s a great opportunity now for us and we’ll reassess and sit down and plan what we want to do next.”
And now with a Commonwealth medals in their pockets, the brothers are focused on using the experience in front of big crowds to their advantage as they aim to realize their dream of representing New Zealand at the Olympics.