Australian pair charge into beach volleyball final and shot at Olympic gold

Their foreheads met, Mariafe Artacho del Solar in tears and Taliqua Clancy beaming, then wrapped a towel around their heads to savour a few seconds to themselves. The cameras caught everything else at Shiokaze Park, though, a 2-0 straight-sets semi-final win that puts the pair one match away from Australia’s first beach volleyball gold medal since Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst did it on the sands of Bondi.

Artacho del Solar and Clancy had seemed set for the final since prevailing against Canada’s reigning world champions Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes in the last eight. On Thursday, with Latvia’s world No 15 combination of Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka on the other side of the net, they won a tight first set and then rallied behind to comfortably secure the second in a manner that will have American second seeds Alix Klineman and April Ross on high alert come Friday.

It has been a rapid rise for Australia’s fastest-flourishing women’s beach volleyball combination in some time. Artacho del Solar, a 27-year-old of Peruvian heritage who was born in Lima and moved to Sydney when she was 11, played at the 2016 Games with then partner Nicole Laird and did not win a match. Clancy, a 29-year-old Indigenous Australian who grew up more than 200km from the nearest beach in the rural Queensland town of Kingaroy, was also in Rio and made the quarter-finals with the now-retired Louise Bawden.

In 2017, the new partnership was formed. Clancy and Artacho del Solar won silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, won seven FIVB world tour events and claimed bronze at the 2019 world championships in Hamburg.

This video has been removed. This could be because it launched early, our rights have expired, there was a legal issue, or for another reason.

“Mariafe said we always knew we were going to be in this position, and it’s awesome for us to know that we took another step forward again today,” Clancy told Seven afterwards. “We stayed really patient, because there was a bit of a patch where I don’t think we were right where we wanted to be. But we stayed strong and came out really strong after our technical timeout in the second set and showed that’s our game. I’m just so proud of Mariafe and our whole team and now we’ve just got one more step.”

The Australians trailed early in the second set, forced to chase after going down two breaks. The technical timeout was the reset they needed. As Artacho del Solar put it, they turned their nerves into “fire, excitement and aggression”, and duly won 11 of the next 13 points for the 23-21, 21-13 victory that guarantees them at least a silver medal. Where does the fight come from? “The gym,” she joked, flexing her bicep.

Artacho del Solar’s ability to get low quickly rescued several points while Clancy, who at 184cm is identical in height to Graudina, got the better of the key net battles with some crucial blocks and winning spikes.

“I’m so proud of the team,” Cook wrote on Instagram before the Canada match. “And the way they’ve been escalating throughout the Games! They were in great form on Sunday when they beat China in two sets!”

“Nat’s kept in touch a lot with us, and we know Kerri’s bigging us up on the commentary so we thank you for that too,” Clancy said. “They’re so great. They are one of our biggest cheerleaders. They saw that fire and that ability and that gold in us. We’re so grateful for their time.”

In the other semi-final, Klineman and Ross demolished their Swiss rivals Anouk Vergé-Dépré and Joana Heidrich 21-12 21-11 in 37 minutes.