Sydney, Australia, February 26, 2019 - When Christopher McHugh hits the sand at next month’s Sydney Open on Manly Beach, the Australian will be starting his 12th full season on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour as he continues building his resume as one of his country’s most experienced players on the international circuit.
Quick links - Beach volleyball:
The 6-foot-6 (197cm) McHugh’s appearance on Manly will be his 99th participation in an FIVB-sanctioned event and his 95th World Tour start as he ranks fifth among Australians in terms of competition at the international federation’s sponsored tournaments since the start of play in February 1987.
Only Olympians Natalie Cook (165 FIVB events, 164 World Tour appearances), Julien Prosser (145, 144), Joshua Slack (136, 136) and Andrew Schacht (118, 116) have participated in more FIVB and World Tour events than McHugh, who started competing internationally in September 2006 at the Under-19 World Championships in Bermuda.
When questioned about his FIVB participation and his name on the list with the Australian Olympians, McHugh said “to be honest I had no idea. I have been extremely lucky to have represented my country on many occasions and in some of the world's great beach volleyball venues.”
McHugh added that “the players ahead of him on the list are legends of our sport in Australia. If I can achieve anything close to what they did in their careers, then I would count myself extremely lucky. Andrew is now my coach and I played with Josh for three seasons. Both Andrew and Josh have had a massive effect on my career to date and will continue to into the future. The partners I have played with over the years have helped to shape me into the person I am today and the experiences we shared both positive and negative have been a hell of a journey and one I am lucky to have been a part of.”
The 29-year old said he has “been very fortunate to benefit from a time in Australian sport which invested heavily in younger players and was able to compete on the World Tour since 2008 at the age of 18. From this I have been able to forge a career in the sport I love but would love to see other young male players get the same opportunities I did when I was younger. I have learned and experienced so much from our great sport which I would love for others to experience.”
McHugh’s career has been highlighted by a pair of gold medal finishes at events held in Australia, including a March 2017 FIVB title with Damien Schumann at Shepparton. McHugh and Schumann then teamed 13 months later on the Gold Coast to capture the gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games where the Australians defeated Canada’s Sam Pedlow and Sam Schachter 2-1 (21-18, 18-21, 18-16) in the 58-minute finale.
“It is always an honor and privilege to compete for your country,” said McHugh, “but to do it on 'home' soil in front of family and friends is always extremely special. We don't often get to compete with those who support us in attendance as much of the year we spend abroad but being able to share success with them is so important.”
As for the March 6-10 Sydney Open, McHugh said he has “played on many beaches around the world and some of the great venues in beach volleyball's history, but Manly Beach has a special place in Australia's beach volleyball psyche. I am sure many of the international players would agree it’s an amazing place to compete.”
With the Sydney Open being McHugh’s sixth international beach volleyball event on home sand, he said he has “had great success in tournaments held in Australia over the years with many different partners and am looking forward to Volleyfest 2019 in a couple of weeks’ time.”
McHugh also noted that “Australian conditions are different from those overseas and it takes some time getting used to, especially for overseas players coming from the northern hemisphere winter.”
With much of your success with Damien Schumann, including a ninth-place finish at the 2017 FIVB World Championships in Vienna, McHugh was asked why he switched partners to start playing with Zachery Schubert last July?
“After the Commonwealth Games, I was approached by the federation to play with Zachery,” McHugh noted. “He is a very talented young player. The aim of the team is to qualify a team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games through the top 15 teams on the FIVB World Tour or through the Continental Cup process. Since an Australian men's team hasn't represented at the Olympics since Beijing 2008, we desperately want to get back onto the biggest stage of the sport. To do this, the coaches believed the two teams created out of the players switch would give us the best chance of qualifying.”
McHugh added that he and “Damien had some great results together. We are both still very close as friends and see each other every day at training and live two minutes from each other.”
An avid cricket fan that idolizes Glenn McGrath, McHugh said 2018 was “a very frustrating year for the team as I needed two knee surgeries to fix injuries sustained over the years which then limited our opportunities to compete internationally. We have been training hard back in Adelaide at the South Australian Sports Institute in preparation for the upcoming World Tour season. The team has taken great steps over the Australian summer which has been exciting to be a part of and we can't wait to compete on the international stage again.”
As for qualifying for the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Germany and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, McHugh said his team is “taking things one tournament and one game at a time. It is an age-old cliché, but for us, each game is an important learning step towards the growth of the team and exploring how good we can be as a team. Qualifying for the World Championships in Hamburg this year would be a great achievement and would be Zach's first. However, we are also strongly committed to the Olympic qualification process which the World Championships are a massive part of. Due to injuries, we have a massive task ahead of us to do both. We are prepared to work hard and give it everything we have in pursuit of the Olympic dream.”
When asked about his career continuing into his 30s, McHugh said “it’s a funny question as I feel like it has been forever that I have been playing on the World Tour. However, if I was in another country like the USA, I would just be starting my beach career. I am committed to play through to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and from there I will reassess things. Zachery has brought a new energy to the team which has rubbed off on me and I am really positive about the future of the team.”
McHugh noted that the “FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour has changed a lot over the last two years and it is harder now to make a decent living, especially from Australia with such large travel costs and time spent away from loved ones. This will probably be the ultimate deciding factor in how long I will play for.”
Known for his sense of humour, McHugh once said he would like to compete in lawn bowling! “It was a bit of a joke to be honest, McHugh added. “I don't participate regularly but maybe with two new knees I might be able to take it up more seriously.”
Any thoughts of lawn bowling now on hold, McHugh is now focused on next month’s Manly Beach event. “Being able to play in front of family and friends is always special,” McHugh ended. “Since as we play a lot overseas, it is not often that we can share our experiences with them.”