21/04/2024

Mariafe Aratcho del Solar and Taliqua Clancy are beach volleyball silver medallists. (Photo: AUS Olympic Team/Twitter)

Australian pair Mariafe Artacho del Solar and Taliqua Clancy won silver in beach volleyball at Tokyo 2020, our first medal in the event since Sydney 2000.

Australia has today won its first beach volleyball medal since Sydney 2000. For all your Tokyo 2020 coverage, stay tuned to The Inner Sanctum’s Olympic hub and the Olympics Central.

The celebrations had already begun yesterday as Mariafe Artacho del Solar and Taliqua Clancy became the first Australian pair to advance to a gold medal match since Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst at Sydney. They were also the first Aussies competing for any medal at all since Athens 2004.

Cook and Pottharst won bronze in Atlanta, gold in Sydney, and came fourth in Athens. In the men’s bracket, Australia has never made it any higher than fourth, Julien Prosser and Mark Williams also doing so in Athens.

Clancy became the ninth First Nations Australian to win an Olympic medal, and the second at Tokyo.

Like every athlete at Tokyo 2020, the path to get there certainly hasn’t been easy. The Inner Sanctum takes you through the journey our new silver pair took to the podium.

Qualifying for Tokyo 2020

Both Aratcho del Solar and Clancy competed at Rio 2016, though both were a part of another pair. Aratcho del Solar competed with Nicole Laird, but the pair failed to win a game in the group stage.

Clancy on the other hand was paired with veteran Louise Bawden, who also represented Australia in indoor volleyball at Sydney 2000. The two won every game in the group, but ultimately fell to the USA 2-0 before the medal matches to place fifth.

Taliqua Clancy | Australian Olympic Committee
Clancy representing Australia at Rio 2016. (Photo: Australian Olympic Committee)

Coming into the Olympics, the pair were ranked 17th in the world, just 100 points behind Canada and Brazil.

They competed in eight lead-up events in 2021 after not attending any in 2020 due to COVID restrictions. Three first place finishes across events in Australia including in South Australia, NSW and Queensland to build some strong form.

Three events were held in Cancun in the lead up to Tokyo for the Olympic pairs. Artacho del Solar finished fifth, ninth and finally first. Two more tournaments in Switzerland in early July saw the Australia heading into Tokyo with a placement no lower than ninth in 2021.

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The grind to the gold medal match

The group stage games didn’t go quite as well as the pair had planned, but the wins that did come were well deserved.

The silver medallists defeated Cuban pair Lidianny Echevarria Benitez and Leila Martinez in straight sets, winning 21-15, 21-14.

Match two against Italian duo Viktoria Orsi Toth and Marta Menegatti went right down to the wire, but the Aussies still ended up two set winners. It was a 22-20, 21-19 victory in a tense and close affair.

The third and final match was a three set epic.

A poor start in the first set the ROC pair dominate the Aussies 21-8. It was their worst performance in a set in the Olympic tournament so far, but they managed to salvage it with a 21-15 second set.

The tiebreaker third set went the ROC’s way 15-12. Makroguzova and Kholomina finished at the top of Pool E undefeated, Artacho del Solar and Clancy second.

In a huge upset, the ROC pair went down to the Latvian pair Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka in another three set monster match in the Round of 16. Clancy and Artacho del Solar started off the Round of 16 strongly, defeating the Chinese pair in two sets.

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Next up in the quarter-finals was the undefeated world champions from Canada.

Though hopeful, most Aussie spectators had become resigned to our medal chances ending there. What followed was a 21-15 first set that suddenly captured the interest of a nation.

Losing the second set 19-21, it was an uphill battle in the third and final set. After a battle to advance through to the semis, Australia were there, and in with a medal chance.

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The last obstacle between Australia and a medal were the very Latvian pair who eliminated the ROC team that handed the nation it’s only loss of the tournament.

It was serve for serve in the first set, both sides trading blows in the sand. Ultimately it was the Australians who prevailed 23-21, and followed it up with a much stronger 21-13 for a chance at the gold.

Hitting the golden sand

The gold medal match itself didn’t get off to an ideal start.

Team USA found the first point of the match, while also serving two early aces to go up 5-2. It was their 13th ace of the competition, a noted strength of the American pair.

The Americans kept up their strong defence early, dominant with their blocks up close to the net. Artacho del Solar managed to sneak a few spikes right to the line, but it was still a 9-5 deficit.

Alix Klineman’s 71% attack rate, the best of any female beach volleyballer at Tokyo 2020, was on show. Her devastating spikes and aggression on the net were causing plenty of trouble for the Aussie pair.

A failed serve from the Americans left the score standing 10-17, just April Ross’ 14th fault of the whole tournament. The Australian pair answered with a failed serve right back, and it looked like the first set was destined to go to the USA.

An incredible dig by Artacho del Solar kept a bit of life in the first set, bringing it back to 13-18. The comeback wasn’t to last though, and the USA claimed the first set 21-15.

The second set was immediately looking better for the Aussies, winning the first two points off the back of a strong serve and a dramatic rally. While the Australians were managing to create unforced errors for their opponents, they couldn’t capitalise on the scorecard which read 2-6 the USA’s way.

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There was no stopping the dominance of the Americans in the second set as they took advantage of every angle they could possibly use. Sitting 6-14 up, they’d won over half of their attacks.

Clancy snuck a dig over the net, and as the Americans found the outside of the line for three Australian points straight, they called a time out. Keeping their serve, Clancy and Artacho del Solar had the support of the vocal Aussie team behind them.

Serving an ace, Artacho del Solar kept the Aussies in touch at 13-16. The Americans would win four of the next five points to go up 14-20, and earn six gold medal points.

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While Australia worked it back to four gold medal points, it wasn’t enough. The USA claimed gold, and Australia silver.

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