Nicole ‘Nikki’ Laird made her Olympic debut in Rio with her beach volleyball partner Mariafe Artacho del Solar. The duo defeated the top Vanuatu team in Cairns at the Oceania qualifier in a nail biting, rainy grand final 19-17 in the final set to help secure the nation’s second women’s beach volleyball team at Rio 2016.
In Rio the young guns didn’t win a match, going down to the USA, Switzerland and China. But their obvious bond and competitive spirit earnt them the admiration.
Born in North Sydney, Laird was originally a springboard diver but grew too tall for the sport. She attended a beach volleyball camp at her local beach Manly when she was young and was instantly hooked on the sport.
She made her international debut in 2011 before placing 17th at the 2012 Junior World Championships with Eliza Haynes. Laird teamed up full-time with Artacho del Solar in late 2013. The pair, both originally from Sydney and the same high school, won gold at the U23 World Championships in 2014, before winning the national championships in 2015.