By Talya Minsberg and Victor Mather
TOKYO — Just four years after making the transition to beach volleyball, Alix Klineman of the United States won the gold medal on Friday with her partner April Ross, who took home her third Olympic medal.
The Americans won, 21-15, 21-16 over Mariafe Artacho del Solar and Taliqua Clancy of Australia on a blisteringly hot day at Shiokaze Park. The Australians particularly struggled to win points on their serve: An American dig, set and spike always seemed to be waiting for them.
When Ross won her last Olympic medal with Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2016, Klineman didn’t even play beach volleyball.
She was a professional indoor volleyball player, playing internationally for teams in Italy and Brazil. In 2017, Klineman envisioned a future in beach volleyball and dreamed of the Olympics. She began to study the craft.
Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, was watching. She saw potential with Klineman, 31, citing a list of attributes: her physicality, work ethic, intelligence and intensity, to start.
“Alix did study the game more than anyone else I’ve ever known,” said Ross, 39. “She’d go home and watch a ton of video, and I’d be like, ‘Well, I’ve got to go home and watch video, too.’”
Without fans in the stands in Tokyo, it was easier to catch the pair’s enthusiasm and communication in the stadium. If there was no cheering, they would make up for it by encouraging each other even louder on their way to the gold.
“I just can’t believe it,” Klineman said minutes after they earned their spot in the final. “It’s the most amazing feeling. You know, we dreamed of this, and this is what we worked for every single day. But just because you work for it, and just because you do everything you can, doesn’t mean that it happens.”
They had an extraordinary run at the Tokyo Olympics, winning gold without dropping a set in any of their four matches in sweltering heat. The dominance was the payoff for Klineman’s transition to a new sport and Ross’s bet on a new player.
“When you’re working for something like this, you need someone who is going to work their butt off every day,” Ross said. “And I knew she was coming out to the beach to make the Olympics. And I knew taking such a risk for herself was a motivating factor.”
“It all held up,” she said, looking up to Klineman, who is 6 feet 5 inches tall.
For Ross, the gold medal is the culmination of a career that at times was lost in the long shadow of the greatest U.S. beach volleyball players, Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor, the gold medalists in 2004, 2008 and 2012.
In her first Olympic trip, Ross won silver in 2012 with Jennifer Kessy, losing the final to the legendary duo. When May-Treanor retired, Ross joined forces with Walsh Jennings to win bronze in 2016.
Now she has the full set.
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