Beach volleyball duo Chris McHugh and Damien Schumann have performed heroics in their opening Olympic match but still fell just short in an agonising three-set defeat by the world's top pair from Norway.
Adelaide's McHugh and Melbourne's Schumann, Australia's first male beach volleyball players to compete at the Games since 2008, went down 21-18 18-21 15-13 to the Norwegians Anders Berntsen Mol and Christian Sandlie Sorum in Saturday's epic late clash at Shiokaze Park.
They had battled back superbly after losing the opener, winning the first three points of the second set against the younger European champion pair to take control and level the contest.
Mol and Sorum, though, edged clear of the Aussies near the end of a remarkably tight decider, going on the attack to open up a 13-11 lead which was to prove decisive in the 58-minute thriller.
It was a tremendous effort from the Australian pair, who have overcome serious hurdles to get to Tokyo, with McHugh having endured a shoulder reconstruction and four bouts of knee surgery in 10 months to get to Japan.
McHugh and Schumann, both in their thirties, were saluted by their conquerors, who are seeking to become the youngest-ever European champions.
"They played amazing," said the impressed 24-year-old Mol.
"They served really, really well. We didn't expect that kind of service pressure. So that was tougher than we expected, but we're so happy that we came away with a win and can gain confidence from this."
It was the end of a dramatic opening day to the beach volleyball, which saw the first scheduled match cancelled after Czech player Marketa Slukova had tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week.
It forced Slukova and partner Barbora Hermannova out of the tournament.
Slukova is one of at least four members of the Czech team who have tested positive since their arrival in Japan, including men's beach volleyball player Ondrej Perusic.
A third beach player, American competitor Taylor Crabb, tested positive for COVID-19.
But his partner, Jake Gibb, will remain in the competition with alternate Tri Bourne, who was able to make it to Tokyo in time.
Australian Associated Press