2018-07-10 12:30:00 CEST
Taliqua and Mariafe have gone a long way in just nine months, but they are looking for something bigger in Gstaad
Australian female beach volleyball teams had topped the podium four times in the first 25 years of the World Tour. Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho del Solar needed just nine months to do the same and double their country’s gold medals count in the international scene thanks to one of the most promising starts of a team in recent years. And they are not done yet.
The young Aussies decided to pair last October after 26-year-old Clancy ended her partnership with Louise Bawden and 24-year-old Artacho split with Phoebe Bell. Their chemistry was instant and they won the first four tournaments they played together - two stops of the Asian Tour, a three-star World Tour tournament in Qinzhou, China, and a two-star event in their home sand of Sydney, all in 2017.
“Since our first tournament together we knew there was a natural connection straight away,” Mariafe told beachmajorseries.com. “We trusted and believed in each other, which made the process much smoother. We are always on the same page and have the same goals and that is so important in a new partnership.”
The pair weren’t exactly strangers, however, as they had played together in four tournaments in 2012, including the Under-21 World Championship, where they claimed the bronze medal. But a lot had to happen for them to cross paths.
Taliqua, the first indigenous player to ever represent Australia in an Olympic beach volleyball event, was born in the agricultural town of Kingaroy, a 10,000-inhabitant village located more than 200km away from Brisbane, where she started playing the sport. Mariafe, on the other hand, was born in Lima, Peru, and didn’t move to Sydney until she was 11.
Before pairing up, they were together as part of the Australian Olympic team for the Rio 2016 Games, where Taliqua and veteran Louise Bawden finished fifth while Mariafe and Nicole Laird, the Under-23 world champions of 2014, were 19th.
We snuck in a selfie before he bolted! ✌🏾️ #athletesvillage #olympicvillage #dininghall #rio2016 #usainbolt
935 Likes, 12 Comments - Mariafe Artacho del Solar (@mariafe_beach1) on Instagram: "We snuck in a selfie before he bolted! ✌🏾️ #athletesvillage #olympicvillage #dininghall #rio2016..."
A year and a half later, they were partners in another multi-sports event, the first edition of Commonwealth Games which had beach volleyball in the program, and after very emotional days in the Gold Coast, they gave their country a silver medal in the event.
“It’s a valuable part of our team to both have played in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games,” Taliqua added. “The different experiences, the journey to the Olympics and playing the Commonwealth Games at such an early time of our partnership has definitely taught us so much and motivated us to continue to train hard and grow our game.”
4,770 Likes, 136 Comments - Mariafe Artacho del Solar (@mariafe_beach1) on Instagram: "So proud of our team! 🇦🇺💚💛"
After the historical medal in their home soil, they kept overcoming the hurdles on their way. Last May, Taliqua and Mariafe topped the podium in another World Tour three-star event, this one in Lucerne, Switzerland, just to take another leap two months later and reach arguably their most significant result so far, the gold medal of the four-star Espinho Open, in Portugal.
The title moved them to the sixth place in the world rankings.
“Every victory means a lot,” Mariafe remarked. “This was our first gold medal in a four-star event so, it’s very special. We take one event at a time and continue to aim to deliver our best performance.”
2,425 Likes, 62 Comments - Mariafe Artacho del Solar (@mariafe_beach1) on Instagram: "GOLD! 🥇😅🙈 An unforgettable feeling! 💛💚"
Their trajectories might be very different, but their inspiration was the same: Australian legend Natalie Cook. The former player, an Olympic champion from Sydney 2000 and the only woman to compete in five beach volleyball Olympic tournaments, works for the country’s Olympic Committee and is heavily involved with the sport in Australia.
And if their careers were positively impacted by Cook, the opposite is also true as back in 2012, when they first played together, Taliqua and Mariafe were part of the Australian squad that won the Asian Continental Cup and granted the veteran her fifth and last Olympic appearance in London 2012.
“Nat has been a mentor for us all,” Taliqua commented. “We’re lucky and grateful for her knowledge and support. Her strength and positive energy are contagious.”
It’s hard to tell where such a meteoric rise will take them, but one thing is for sure – they know where they want to go. And their next goal is already set: a medal in the Beach Major Series - starting on Wednesday with their debut together in the Swatch Major Gstaad.
“We are excited to be in Gstaad,” Mariafe stated. “We always aim to be on top of the podium, so we will take one game at a time and focus on the processes, keep growing our game and enjoy playing in such a beautiful location. We both have high expectations of each other and for our team and we definitely believe we can achieve this.”
With all you’ve done in just nine months, who would bet against it?