Australia has qualified for the Olympic beach volleyball gold medal match for the first time in 21 years as Mariafe Artacho del Solar and Taliqua Clancy produced a performance for the ages to defeat Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka of Latvia 2-0 (23-21, 21-13) at Shiokaze Park.
Playing in the biggest game of their careers to date, the Australians showed no sign of nerves, playing outstanding volleyball from the outset.
They moved the ball in attack to stretch the Latvian defence and steadily built a lead, with the Aussies leading throughout the majority of the set, changing ends at 16-12 with a first set win in sight. However an ace by Kravcenoka and a block by Graudina tightened the game right up with the teams going point for point after from 17-all.
Artacho and Clancy weathered the challenge, showing their composure to wrap up the first set 23-21 with an ace from Artacho.
Latvia desperately fought back in the second, jumping to an early lead of three points to put pressure right back on Australia. The second set showcased energy-sapping rallies with both teams defending well.
The Australian pair again knuckled down, setting a blistering pace throughout the back half of the set, going on an unstoppable 13-3 run featuring dominant blocks from Clancy, big swinging from Artacho and incredible serving from both.
The pair wrapped up the second set 21-13 to book their place in the final, where they will attempt to win Australia’s second ever beach volleyball gold.
The Australians are now guaranteed a medal, but Artacho del Solar and Clancy have got the Olympic title in their sights as they face the USA in the final with full confidence in their game.
“We’ve dreamt of this moment for many years and it’s just so unreal that we are actually only one step away from that result,” Artacho said.
“We’re going into it with that same mentality. We’ll just enjoy this moment and then we go back and rest and recover and just start the process all over again,” Clancy added. “This is the moment that we knew that we wanted to be in, so we’ll enjoy this moment, then go and do it again tomorrow.”
“We’ll try to treat it like it’s just another game, even thought it’s not – it’s the beautiful life of an athlete,” Artacho added.
The Australian pair will try to emulate the iconic success of Kerri Pottharst and Nat Cook, who have been very supportive throughout their qualification and Olympic campaigns.
“Nat and Kerri have helped give us that full belief that they had. They saw that gold medal mentality in us and they knew that we could do it. That’s the main thing that Kerri and Nat have always pumped into us, and now we’re in our own gold medal match,” Clancy said.
Clancy and Artacho del Solar also hope their Olympic successes will inspire people back in Australia, both on and off the court.
“My journey started from watching Cathy Freeman at the Sydney Olympics, that was me as an 8-year-old.
“That was where my dream started, so it’s fantastic to think that we now have the opportunity to inspire the future generation to become Olympic athletes,” proud Wulli Wulli woman Clancy said.
“And it’s not just athletes, I’m