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Beach Volleyball Wrap: the indelible impression

22 August 2016

BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Results might show Australia’s beach volleyball campaign at Rio 2016 as one of missed opportunities but for anyone who tuned into the scintillating action at Copacabana Stadium, the indelible impression left was the arrival of some super young talent not seen in the green and gold since the likes of Kerri Ann Pottharst and Nat Cook.

Australia’s pairings of Taliqua Clancy/Louise Bawden and Mariafe del Solar/ Nikki Laird arrived at the international home of the sport full of confidence. A strong season placed the former pair as 6th seeds, and a Continental Cup win earned the latter their first Olympic start.

They’d play in front of 12,000-strong raucous crowds, in the biggest stadium the sport had ever seen, sitting amongst the spectacular surrounds of the famed Copacabana Beach – it was undoubtedly the place to be this Olympics.

For del Solar and Laird, their maiden Olympics was fraught with challenges against some of the strongest teams in the world, not least the superstar American pairing of Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross.

The young Sydneysiders – best mates since they were young, tearing up the courts on the northern beaches – didn’t win a match, going down to the USA, Switzerland and China. But their obvious bond and competitive spirit earnt them the admiration (and a big hit in social media following) from thousands around the globe.

But it was the pairing of Clancy and Bawden – forged not long after London 2012 - that was able to turn some terrific teamwork into tangible results, with the pair downing Costa Rica, Venezuela and the Netherlands to enter the Round of 16 undefeated.

They showed terrific nerve to down Poland and set up a mouth-watering quarter-final against the star-studded Americans, played at the unfamiliar timeslot of midnight (a challenge both teams had to endure, to allow for convenient time scheduling for overseas audiences).

While Ross and Jennings would prevail in that match – and eventually seal a bronze medal later in the tournament – Clancy and Bawden’s remarkable campaign was so very nearly one that could have ended with a medal.

Undoubtedly the story of Australia’s campaign was the emergence of a world-class talent in 24-year-old Clancy, the sport’s first Indigenous athlete.

The young star from Kingaroy, QLD was simply superb throughout the tournament, troubling opponents with a missile-like serve and pure power and dominance at the net.

Clancy’s athletic talents were complemented by a never-say-die attitude that, combined with the composure and experience of her partner Bawden, made the Australians a formidable outfit that pushed the best in the world to the limit.

Bawden, meanwhile, was terrific in what was her third Olympics. A hugely popular competitor with a heart of gold (concealing an insatiable will to win), the 32-year-old was the perfect partner in crime for Clancy, and the pair’s close bond was prevalent in their comments after each win, and even more so after their heartbreaking quarter final loss.

Tears flowed from both teams in the immediate aftermath of their campaigns – of disappointment initially, but more so of the realisation they’d lived a dream in Rio, and could be proud of their performances.

While it’s unclear what Bawden’s plans are for the future, it’s clear Australia’s beach volleyball stocks are more exciting than they’ve been in a long time with Clancy, del Solar and Laird leading the charge.

Our beach volleyballers may not be returning home with a medal this time around, but they’ve set the sport on a path back to that unforgettable success that was Pottharst and Cook in Sydney.

Doug MacDougall

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