Try to picture a town of only 46,832 people. According to Wikipedia, the closest real town to this in Australia is Gladstone (45,000), although…
The dreaded ‘husband-and-wife’ serve describes a moment in volleyball where the ball drops between two non-committal returners. It suggests indecision. A lack of communication. But the Aussie pairing of Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho del Solar are anything but indecisive. They’re one unified, albeit unlikely, beach volleyball team.
One grew up more than 200km from the beach, another spent the first half of her life in Peru. Yet, they have gelled wonderfully to produce an Australian beach volleyball powerhouse who have just knocked off the world champions in the quarter-final, then made light work of the European champs in the semis.
Now, they’re through to the gold medal match – which will be contested at 12.30pm on Friday – and are only seeking one thing. While it’s their second Games, it’s the pair’s first together – not that you’d know it.
One of the great sleeper narratives of these Olympics — an Indigenous woman and a South American immigrant teaming up to produce sheer excellence. This is Australia. https://t.co/iFKvLOCgGn
— Vince Rugari (@VinceRugari) August 5, 2021
Mariafe Artacho del Solar, the youngest of the two, left behind her mother and sister in Peru when she was just 11 to live with her Auntie in Australia.
A move that was difficult for her family remaining in South America, as her Mum explained tearfully in the 27-year-old’s Instagram biopic.
“It wasn’t an easy decision moving countries. Above all, because [her sister] wasn’t coming,” she said.
But a starry-eyed del Solar was full of youthful innocence.
“It wasn’t easy but it was worth it, it was worth it because of her personality, her push, her determination and happiness,” del Solar’s mother said.
“One day she said to me ‘Mum, I’m going to make history in this country’.”
Speaking of history, it was Australia’s Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst’s gold medal in Sydney 2000 that actually spurred del Solar to hit the sand in the first place.
“My auntie came to Peru to visit us and she brought a postcard that had Nat Cook and Kerri Pottharst on it after they had just won their gold.” del Solar told Wide World of Sports. “They dedicated the postcard to my sister who was actually the one playing and representing Peru,” del Solar said.
“It wasn’t until I came to Australia that I got to meet Nat and Kerri, and that’s when it all connected and I started playing beach volleyball and I said ‘this is what I want to do, I want to be like them, I want to win gold and go to the Olympics’.”
Winning gold is now certainly on the cards.
In an awesome full-circle moment, Kerri Pottharst was able to call the semi-final win over Latvia.
They have done it!!!
They are into the GOLD Medal match! ????????
— 7Olympics (@7olympics) August 5, 2021
Likewise, Taliqua Clancy was inspired to try her hand at beach volleyball by watching her fellow Aussies succeed in the Sydney Games, only in a different event.
Her inspiration came after witnessing Cathy Freeman’s historic run.
“That’s when I definitely knew I wanted to be an Olympian. It was just the vibe and I was so young, our family all got together to watch the Olympics on television,” she revealed to SBS.
Freeman’s performance was extra special for Clancy, a proud Wulli Wulli and Goreng Goreng woman.
Growing up in the rural town of Kingaroy, Clancy became the first Indigenous Australian beach volleyballer in Rio.
“I’m extremely proud that I get the opportunity to represent my culture,” she said. “I’m very proud to be Aboriginal and it’s just something that’s a really special part of me. I love that it gives me the opportunity to be a role model.”
Much like her teammate, a strong female figure was also important to the 29-year-old who had to spend time away from loved ones in her pursuit of Olympic glory.
“My mum was always really supportive so I never knew all the challenges, how hard it was to be away from the family. I was so lucky that my mum gave me 100 per cent support. She never held me back or said I couldn’t do anything. She made that sacrifice for me.”
In beach volleyball, so much hinges upon the chemistry between teammates. Clancy and del Solar have it in spades. It’s instinctual.
“We have a strong connection, we trust each other and we trust ourselves,” del Solar told FIVB News.
“That makes it easy, we want the same goals, we are both competitive and we balance each other really well. My strengths and Taliqua’s strengths combine for a really good team.”
Clancy concedes that her playing partner is the one that keeps them in check.
“I am definitely the bossier one,” the 29-year-old revealed in an interview with QSMC. “But we balance each other out really well. We definitely wouldn’t function with two Taliqua’s in the team!”
Though del Solar isn’t without her zeal.
“I’d like to think I am a fighter, I believe fighting comes from my Latin background, where we have to fight to survive. I am very passionate, I love doing what I do and I’m very grateful for it,” she said to FIVB News.
Perhaps, that’s why they respect each other so much, why they’re in sync. Not to mention their complementary playing styles: del Solar an expert digger, Clancy a master of the serve.
Their bond hasn’t gone without its tests either. Back in 2019, Mariafe Artacho del Solar severely injured her knee in the World Championships but played through to earn bronze.
“I remember the moment Mariafe injured her knee in the Round of 16, but I didn’t realise the severity of the injury in that moment,” Clancy told FIVB News.
“She mentioned it but I feel so rude because I just said ‘you’re fine, its ok, you’re ok’ – it was only after that game that I learnt how severe the injury was. So I was shocked to find out that she did her meniscus
“But I think that was a really big moment for us as a team, to show that resilience and to go through that adversity.
“We learnt a lot as a team in those moments.”
Clancy reminisced about one moment in particular that revealed her teammate’s character.
“The morning after her injury – when we were walking to breakfast – she was limping in the hallways.
“Then we got out to the front of the restaurant and she just walked in like a total boss, no limp. It was amazing she hid it so well, we were also grateful it was cold and we could wear leggings.”
Both have unique origins and unique personalities, but when it comes to game time for the Aussies, they espouse one team identity. One objective.
After their semi-final win, Mariafe reinforced this goal speaking to Channel Seven, or rather screaming excitedly “Gold baby! We came here for gold.”