A-Team of Alix Klineman and April Ross loves it when a plan comes together

    Elaine Teng is a writer and editor at ESPN.

Alix Klineman wasn’t the obvious choice to partner beach volleyball veteran April Ross, who had previously won silver in London with Jennifer Kessy and bronze in Rio with Kerri Walsh Jennings. But Ross saw something in the former indoor volleyball player when they teamed up in 2017. And on Friday at the Tokyo Olympics, they showed the world she was right.

The American pair, popularly known as “The A-Team,” beat Australia’s Mariafe Artacho del Solar and Taliqua Clancy in straight sets, 21-15, 21-16, to win gold in the blazing mid-day sun. (The gold medal women’s soccer match between Canada and Sweden, scheduled for around the same time, was actually moved to the evening due to heat.)

The Americans dropped only one set in the six matches leading up to the final and came out strong. The Australians led only once during the match, going up 2-0 at the start of the second set. But it didn’t last for long. Klineman and Ross went on a 10-0 run and didn’t look back.

The U.S. has now won a medal in beach volleyball at every Olympics since it was introduced at the 1996 Games. Ross, 39, becomes the oldest woman to win a medal in the sport, and the first to do so with three different partners. Klineman, 31, who switched to beach volleyball in part because she didn’t make the indoor team for the 2016 Games, won gold just four years after changing sports.

Artacho and Clancy, who will go home with silver, secured Australia’s first medal in the sport since Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst’s iconic gold at the Sydney Games in 2000.

After their victory, Ross paid tribute to Klineman’s hard work and dedication that allowed her to learn the game in just a few years. “I’m just really proud of how hard we have worked over the years, and how Alix dove so hard into beach volleyball and studied the game and worked her butt off, and so she deserves this,” she said.

Ross also spoke about her mother, Margie, who passed away after a long battle with cancer when Ross was in college. During the match, Ross wore a necklace that her mother gave her, and periodically pointed to the sky after crucial points.

“I feel like she’s out there with me. … I’m out there talking to her, I’m like, ‘Mom, I need your help on this serve, let this one fall in,'” she said, her voice shaking. “She’s on our team, too, and it means a lot.”

Klineman and Ross’s families cheered them on from California, and one big admirer wasted little time in congratulating them on Friday.

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