TOKYO – American beach volleyball duo, three-time Olympic medalist April Ross and Alex Kleinman, ventured out and became partners in late 2017 even though Kleinman has less than a year of experience on the beach. In the end, the payoff was Olympic gold.
Ross and Kleinman’s campaign in Tokyo looked effortless – they beat Australian Maria Artacio del Solar and Talico Clancy 2-0 (21-15, 21-16) in the final and didn’t drop a set through four playoffs. Successful betting usually requires a little luck, but for Ross and Kleinman, their fates were controlled with great effort.
“I think sometimes people want to feel confident going into a match and feel like it’s going to go smoothly,” Kleinman said. “But we went in with the opposite mentality and we have a lot of respect for this team because they are so good, they expect a fight, they expect the points to be really tough, I think that helped us prepare for this match. It just helped us give our best.”
Despite their success in cutting through the Olympic slide, Ross and Kleinman refused to belittle Artacho del Solar and Clancy. According to volleyballmag.com, the teams played against each other five times before meeting in the Olympics with the Australians winning 3-2. Artacho del Solar and Clancy won the final match on May 1 in the semi-finals of the four-star FIVB Cancun Championship.
Between their Olympic semi-final match on Thursday and their final match on Friday, Ross and Kleinman tore at least four hours of video to study themselves and their opponent. Kleinman developed a penchant for film grinding as she transitioned from indoor volleyball to beach volleyball.
“I feel like there’s a lot to learn, and so when I’m getting ready for the game, there was nothing like watching a lot of video,” Kleinman said. ‘I feel like getting rid of small inclinations can not hurt.’
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What looked like perfection on the sand took years of preparation, including the moments before the start of each match. Ross and Kleinman do an hour-long “warm-up,” which Kleinman said sounds more like real practice than a short acclimation period.
Together, they take advantage of every opportunity to get a little better before the whistle blows and the match begins.
“Funny story when we were training before the tournament started, Alex was so frustrated with her submission and she just felt like she couldn’t participate,” Ross said. “Over time, she kept going and staying secure and her serve, especially in the last two games, was huge. Not everything was smooth and went according to plan.”
Grinding put the US team to success against Australia. In the first set, Kleinman and Ross broke off early 5-0 to lead 7-2 in the first set and Australia were unable to advance within 20 minutes of play.
After dropping by two points to start the second set, Ross and Kleinman raced 10-0. Marcho del Solar and Clancy tried to get past the lead, closing the gap to 16-13, but the American team won. In total, Ross contributed nine attack points and Kleinman finished with ten attack points and two blocking points.
“I didn’t feel dominant,” Kleinman said. “We have to work hard to win points against the Australian team. I am very proud because we thought we could do it. This is the team that has caused us so much trouble in the past. We went there and put everything there. We believed in our ability.”
A silver medalist in London in 2012 and a bronze medalist at Rio 2016, Ross gave newcomer Kleinman a chance. Kleinman Ross has done her best to transition from indoors to outdoors. At the end of the extended four-year period, they gave each other the end of the story they set out to make.
COVID-19 protocols made her podium moment unique from other games – they had to hang their gold medals around each other’s necks instead of an Olympic official doing it for them.
“I was really excited when I realized I had to put it on her and she had to put it on me. I feel like we both tried to support each other in this partnership as much as we did,” Kleinman said.
Now, the United States has won gold in four of the last five Olympic women’s beach volleyball tournaments. Ross adds to her roster and solidifies her place in American beach history as one of only four athletes regardless of gender with multiple Olympic medals (Keri Walsh Jennings, Misty May Trainor and Karch Kiraly are the others). Kleinman brings home the gold after her first Olympics.
These awards did not come by chance. With diligent preparation, Ross and Kleinman made every risk at the start of their journey worth taking.
“I am so grateful that things worked out,” Kleinman said. “We put it all out there and this was just a fairytale ending and a dream experience for us.”